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Strong quake kills hundreds in north-western province

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-04-14

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake killed nearly 600 people and injured thousands in north-western China's remote mountainous Qinghai province on Wednesday. Chinese media say more than 900 people have been pulled out of the rubble alive.

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck a remote mountainous area in China’s north-western Qinghai province on Wednesday, killing at least 589 people and injuring another 8,000, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Officials said many of the wood-and-earth houses in Yushu county had collapsed, burying their inhabitants. Several larger buildings had also sustained heavy damage.

More than 900 survivors had been pulled out from collapsed buildings by the end of the day, state television reported.

But FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Shanghai, Henri Morton, said the death toll was expected to soar as many people remained trapped in their ruined houses.

“Figures are expected to rise overnight (…) It’s an extremely remote area, they have absolutely no heavy machinery and people are trying to dug each other out of these collapsed buildings by hand”, he said.

Xinhua quoted a local official as saying more than 85 percent of the houses in the town of Jiegu, near the quake's epicentre, had collapsed. At least part of a trade school had also caved in, and “a lot of students are buried underneath,” he said.

The US Geological Survey said the 6.9-magnitude quake hit at 7:49 am local time with an epicentre some 380 kilometres south-east of Golmud and 46 kilometres below the earth’s surface. A series of aftershocks with magnitudes of up to 5.8 followed shortly after the quake.

On the border with Tibet, Yushu county has an 80,000-strong population, according to government figures, and is mainly made up of ethnic Tibetan and Mongolian farmers and herdsmen.

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Wednesday that his country was ready to respond to requests for aid.
"France is ready to respond to any request for assistance that the Chinese authorities may put forward to come to the aid of affected populations in Qinghai," Kouchner said in a statement.

‘We have no medical equipment’

China's civil affairs ministry has plans to send 5,000 tents, 50,000 cotton coats and 50,000 quilts to the quake-hit region, Xinhua reported. Temperatures linger at or below freezing in the region’s high-altitude plateaus at this time of year.

State television has broadcast footage of paramilitary police clearing debris in some quake-hit areas, but collapsed roads and the remoteness of the region are hampering rescue efforts.

“Roads into the area have been blocked by landslides, telecommunications are down,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Henry Morton, reporting from Beijing. According to Morton, eyewitnesses say thousands of people are in the streets, many suffering from head injuries. Medical services in the extremely remote region are “completely overwhelmed”, Morton says.

Chinese authorities may indeed be under-equipped for the search-and-rescue operations they are now facing.

“We have to mainly rely on our hands to clear away the debris as we have no large excavating machines,” said Shi Huajie, a paramilitary police officer working on the rescue operation, in an interview with AFP.

“We have no medical equipment either,” Shi said.

China has a history of strong earthquakes hitting its north-western regions, including the massive 8.0-magnitude quake of May 2008 in neighbouring Sichuan province that killed at least 87,000 people. A 6.2-magnitude quake hit Golmud in August last year, triggering landslides and toppling houses, but there were no reports of casualties.

Date created : 2010-04-14