China's quake death toll rises
Rescuers in southwestern China tried today to reach remote communities rocked by back-to-back earthquakes that killed at least 89 people and damaged many thousands of buildings, state media reported said.
Shallow 5.6 magnitude quakes struck an impoverished, mountainous part of the country with poor infrastructure and communications yesterday and the death toll could rise as news trickled in from cut-off areas, the Xinhua news agency said.
The quakes cut off electricity and triggered landslides that blocked roads, hampering rescue efforts. Adding to rescuers' difficulties was rain which forecasters said was expected for the next three days.
State television showed crumbled walls and roads strewn with rubble and rocks. More than 200,000 people in Yunnan province were relocated after the quakes levelled more than 6,600 houses and damaged many more thousands of buildings.
Up to 740,000 people had been affected in Yunnan's six worst-hit counties, officials said.
In neighbouring Guizhou province, more than 11,700 houses were damaged and the lives of nearly 28,000 people were disrupted, the state news agency and officials said.
Buildings in China's less developed regions are often built with little regard for construction standards, making them susceptible to earthquakes.
Xinhua said more than 800 people were injured. Most of the victims were from Yiliang county in Yunnan province, near the epicentre.
Premier Wen Jiabao held an emergency meeting on his plane as he flew to the disaster zone late on Friday.
He reached Yiliang just after midnight and spent the night visiting quake survivors in villages and hospitals, Xinhua said.
State broadcaster CCTV also showed the premier talking to victims in a tent settlement set up for the displaced.
Rescuers in Yunnan said they had reached most of the worst-hit areas and the province's civil affairs department was quoted as putting direct economic losses at 3.5 billion yuan (€430 million).
The first quake hit at 3.19am (Irish time) yesterday and the second one about 45 minutes later at a depth of about 10km, according to the US Geological Survey.
Earthquakes with an epicentre less than 70km below the surface are considered shallow and can cause significant damage, even at lower magnitudes.
In 2008, about 87,600 people were killed in the southwestern province of Sichuan when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit. Many of the victims died in the rubble of homes and schools built without adequate steel reinforcement.