China Quake Toll Rises, Relief Efforts Intensify

BEIJING (Reuters) - Twin earthquakes which rattled the southwest Chinese province of Yunnan over the weekend killed five people and injured more than 1,500, the China Daily reported on Monday.

It said 31,000 houses were damaged or destroyed and quoted a local official as saying preliminary estimates put the cost of the damage at $74 million.

The first quake, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, struck early on Saturday morning. The second, measuring 6.5, hit the same area 90 minutes later.

Local officials said it was the second tremor which caused most of the damage and the low death toll was due in part to people fleeing their homes after the first.

Thousands of them spent Saturday night huddled around bonfires or in surviving homes to escape freezing overnight temperatures.

Several hundred tents had already been set up and 2,000 more were due to arrive on Monday, the China Daily quoted relief officials as saying. Soldiers had also been drafted in to help coordinate rescue efforts in Yao'an County, about 60 miles northwest of provincial capital Kunming, where most houses are built of wood and brick, the officials said.

Victims in the mountain village of Guantun, at the epicenter of the earthquakes, said it was a terrifying experience.

''Several women and children were frightened to the point of tears and people were choked by the flying dust,'' Xinhua quoted witnesses in Guantun as saying.

A pregnant woman buried under rubble was rescued and promptly had a Caesarian section delivery, state television said, showing images of the woman and her infant swaddled in quilts.

Yunnan province had suffered more than a dozen powerful earthquakes, killing close to 20,000 people, since the 1949 founding of the People's Republic, Xinhua said.

In the most dramatic case, a tremor measuring 7.7 hit Tonghai County on January 5, 1970, killing 15,621 people.

The devastation, which struck amid the tumultuous 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, was covered up until a special report appeared in a state-owned newspaper this month.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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