About 300 dead in China quake

BEIJING, April 14, 2010 (AFP) - A strong earthquake rocked northwestern China on Wednesday, killing about 300 people and injuring another 8,000 as it toppled houses in a remote mountainous area, state media said.

Many houses have collapsed, roads have been damaged or blocked by landslides and telecommunications have been disrupted, local officials said after the quake, which was measured by the US Geological Survey at a magnitude of 6.9.

This frame grab taken off Chinese state CCTV shows Chinese military searching through the rubble of collapsed buildings following a strong earthquake in Yushu County in northwest China's Qinghai province on April 14, 2010. AFP photo

Officials said the quake wreaked havoc on the flimsy earth and wood houses near the epicentre in the high-altitude area of Qinghai province on the border with Tibet.

Xinhua news agency quoted government officials in the area saying about 300 had been confirmed dead, with 8,000 hurt.

"The injured are everywhere in the street, a lot of people are bleeding from head wounds," Xinhua quoted a local official, identified as Zhuohuaxia, as saying.

He said more than 85 percent of houses had collapsed in the town of Jiegu, located near the quake's epicentre.

"There is a big crack in the Yushu Hotel, the four-storey meeting hall of the prefecture government has collapsed," the official said.

At least part of a vocational school had also collapsed and "a lot of students are buried underneath," he added.

Another local official, Huang Limin, told Xinhua that soldiers had been sent to the scene to comb through the debris for survivors.

"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.

"We have no medical equipment either."

State television broadcast footage showing paramilitary police clearing the debris of a collapsed structure.

Rescue teams and equipment were being rushed to the area, Xinhua said, but noted they could be hampered by the infrastructure damage.

The China Earthquake Administration put the magnitude of the quake at 7.1. It said there was extensive damage to local structures in the area, including cracks in a dam.

The USGS said the quake hit at 7:49 am (2349 GMT Tuesday) and was centred 380 kilometres (240 miles) south-southeast of the city of Golmud, at a depth of 46 kilometres.

A series of aftershocks rattled the area shortly after the quake, with magnitudes of up to 5.8, the USGS reported.

Repeated calls by AFP to local government headquarters, businesses and the local airport in Yushu county, the quake's epicentre, went unanswered.

Chinese media reports said telecommunications with the airport had been lost, and that roads leading to the terminal had been damaged.

Yushu county has a population of about 80,000 people, according to government figures.

"The houses here are almost all made of wood and earthen walls. Some collapsed when the quake happened," Karsum Nyima, deputy director of the news department of Yushu TV, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The remote high-altitude region is prone to earthquakes. Home to ethnic Mongolians and Tibetan farmers and herdsmen, the area is dotted with coal, tin, lead and copper mines.

A 6.2-magnitude quake rattled Golmud in August last year, triggering landslides and the collapse of about 30 homes, but there were no reports of casualties.

A massive 8.0-magnitude quake in May 2008 in neighbouring Sichuan province devastated a huge area of southwestern China, leaving at least 87,000 people dead or missing.

The civil affairs ministry was to send 5,000 tents, 50,000 cotton coats and 50,000 quilts to the quake-hit region, Xinhua reported.

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