Kyrgyzstan Quake Flattens Village, Kills 65

A strong earthquake hit Kyrgyzstan, killing 65 people mainly in a remote village near the border with China that rescuers were racing to reach, officials said Monday.

The quake late Sunday, which measured magnitude 6.6 according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), flattened the village of Nura in the isolated Alaisky district on the mountainous border.

"The current number of dead has reached 65 people," the Kyrgyz Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the quake had flattened 120 of the 428 houses in the village high in the mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan close to the Chinese border.

Emergency Situations Minister Kamchybek Tashiyev told journalists that more than 100 people "were injured to various degrees".

The quake hit at 9:52 pm (15:52 GMT) and was felt as far away as the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from Nura.

"The picture we saw was frightening. The village of Nura is fully destroyed, 100 percent. There are many injured. So far we have counted 60 dead. All of them are local residents," Tashiyev said, before his ministry updated the toll.

He added that it would take time for the final number of dead and injured.

Victims were being ferried by helicopter from Nura -- a village of some 960 residents -- to the main regional city of Osh, 220 kilometres away.

"The helicopter will make as many flights as needed to transport wounded people needing medical attention to the regional centre," said Tashiyev.

Rescue efforts were being hampered by the remoteness of the village and a lack of telephone links with it, while roads had become impassable in some places due to the quake, officials said.

"Efforts to assist the victims are being complicated by the distance of the villages... from hospitals, by a lack of communications and by the destruction of the roads," said health ministry official Dinara Sagynbayeva.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the epicentre of the earthquake was 60 east-southeast of Sary-Tash at a depth of 27.6 kilometres.

An aftershock of magnitude 5.1 hit the region just over two hours later, the USGS said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev offered his condolences in a telegram to his Kyrgyz counterpart Kurmanbek Bakiyev and ordered Russian rescuers to assist the relief effort.

Medvedev was due to visit Kyrgyzstan on Thursday for a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of former Soviet republics.

The meeting would go ahead on schedule despite the quake, Bakiyev's office said.

Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked and mountainous nation of five million people, is one of the poorest states of the former Soviet Union and lies in a seismically active region.

In February 2003, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in northwest China, with an epicentre close to Kyrgyzstan in the foothills of the Tianshan Mountains, claimed 268 lives and razed 20,000 houses.

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