Race against time after quake kills at least 25

08:52, March 11, 2011      

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An earthquake toppled more than 1,000 houses and apartment buildings in China's southwest Yunnan Province yesterday, killing at least 25 people and injuring 250 others.

Police, firefighters and soldiers rushed to the area to rescue people trapped in the rubble, including a man and girl stuck in the stairwell of a four-story building, according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

Parts of a supermarket and a hotel caved in, while sidewalks were lined with injured on blankets, being shielded from the sun by vendors' large umbrellas.

At least 25 people were killed, including four students, according to the Yingjiang County government. At least 250 people were injured, 33 of them in a critical condition.

The magnitude-5.8 quake was centered in Yingjiang and struck just before 1pm at a depth of 10 kilometers. The quake hit while many people were home for a customary midday rest.

The earthquake has toppled 1,264 houses or apartments and left 17,658 others seriously damaged, mainly in the county seat near the border with Myanmar, said Zhao Yunshan, director with the county government's press office.

More than 127,100 people have been evacuated to nearby shelters, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs said late last night.

In excess of 80 percent of the homes in Lameng Village, the epicenter, collapsed during the quake, but no serious casualties, only a few slight injuries, were reported in the village, Zhao said.

The tremor triggered a power outage but telecommunication services remained normal in Yingjiang, which has a population of 300,000 and is home to many ethnic groups. By evening, the power supply was still cut off, though water supplies didn't appear to be damaged.

Vice President Xi Jinping called for an "all-out" effort to get food, water and clothing to those affected by the quake. More than 1,000 soldiers have been sent to aid in rescue efforts.

Altogether, seven aftershocks, measuring up to 4.7 degrees on the Richter scale, have jolted the quake-prone county since the first tremor.

Experts have not ruled out the possibility that stronger quakes might hit the region later and they could not say for sure that the first magnitude-5.8 tremor was the main quake, according to Gu Yishan, an expert with the Yunnan Provincial Earthquake Bureau.

A government team that includes the Civil Affairs Ministry has been dispatched to the quake-stricken area. Around 9,700 tents, 13,000 quilts, 13,000 items of clothing and other materials are also being sent to the region.

Yingjiang has been hit by more than 1,000 minor tremors over the past two months.

According to Gu, the frequent tremors in recent months had already damaged buildings in the county, which may have worsened yesterday's disaster.

Shallow focus, along with the fact that the epicenter was very close to the densely populated county seat, were also factors behind the damage, he added.

Between 1991 and 2008, eight earthquakes registering higher than magnitude 5.0 on the Richter scale hit the county, about 700 kilometers west of provincial capital Kunming, said Chen Jianmin, director of the China Earthquake Administration.

A magnitude-5.9 earthquake struck the county in August 2008, leaving three people dead and 106 injured, said Sun Shihong, a researcher with China Earthquake Network Center.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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