China on Monday rushed thousands of soldiers, police and firefighters as well as eight planes to its southwestern Yunnan province, which was devastated by a strong 6.5-magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 400 people.
The death toll from yesterday’s earthquake said to be the most powerful to hit the quake-vulnerable province in the past 14 years today stood at 398 with some people still missing.
The strong shallow quake has affected about 1.08 million others in Zhaotong City and Qujing City with about 1,801 injured.
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The quake prompted an emergency evacuation of about 230,000 people, said the Yunnan Civil Affairs Department.
Nearly 80,000 houses had collapsed and 124,000 others were seriously damaged, the department said.
The deaths included 319 in Ludian County, 66 in Qiaojia County, one in Zhaoyang District and 12 in Huize County.
Three are missing in Qiaojia.
Rescuers are racing against time to save lives after the quake struck at 4:30 pm yesterday at a depth of 12 kms.
The epicentre is in Longtoushan Township, Ludian County.
The Chinese government dispatched 4,000 troops to conduct relief.
Premier Li Keqiang has reached the quake areas to supervise relief.
Yunnan has sent 7,000 rescuers, including 5,000 soldiers, police officers and firefighters, to the quake-hit areas in Zhaotong City and Qujing City.
The rescue work has been hampered by continuous heavy rain which has disrupted traffic, lowered temperatures in the remote area, and made food and medicine shortages even more acute.
Thundershowers and downpours are expected in Ludian County, one of the worst-hit regions, over the next four days, and temperatures could drop to 17 degrees centigrade at night.
Rescuers are evacuating residents threatened by a quake lake, which was formed in Jiangbian Village, Zhixiang Township of Huize County and has inundated 20 village houses.
The water level of the lake is surging rapidly at a speed of one metre per hour.
The lake was formed following a landslide that occurred in the upper reaches of the Hongshiyan hydropower station, which is under construction.
Many survivors in Ludian County seat were seen sitting along the muddy roads waiting for food and edication.
Some half-naked survivors were trembling in the rain. Medics in Ludian’s Longquan Village told state-run Xinhua news agency that they have severe shortages of medicine and local conditions are too poor to perform operations for the severely injured.
“The critically injured patients keep coming, but we are unable to carry out operations for many of them,” one of the doctors working at a makeshift tent in the village said.
“It is impossible to deal with severe injuries such as intracranial hemorrhage in such conditions.”
Frequent aftershocks have followed the earthquake since it first struck.
Yunnan officials have called the earthquake the most powerful to hit the quake-vulnerable province in the past 14 years.
China Earthquake Administration said that so far 411 aftershocks had been recorded in the quake-hit region, with some measuring between 4.0 and 4.9 magnitude.
Local seismic experts have warned that aftershocks measuring 5 to 6 on the Richter scale are possible in the area, but ruled out the possibility of stronger quakes at the epicenter.
Earlier official statistics showed that as many as 57,200 people in Zhaotong are waiting to be evacuated.
“The blocked roads and the continuous downpours have made some disaster areas inaccessible for heavy relief vehicles,” said Liu Jianhua, Secretary of the Communist Party of China Zhaotong Municipal Committee.
Liu said they are experiencing a severe shortage of professional rescue teams and facilities.
“With the roads blocked, it is difficult to carry out more relief work,” Liu added.
Traffic on a lifeline linking the epicenter of Longtoushan Township, Ludian County and the county seat eased Monday morning after hours of gridlock after the quake.
Large numbers of the injured are being transferred to the county’s hospital via the road by ambulance.
Officials with the Yunnan Provincial Department of Civil Affairs said a large number of tents, cotton quilts and fold-out beds had been stored in Zhaotong and Ludian, but there have been problems having them delivered to the quake-hit areas.