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China earthquake death toll rises

8/4/2014

By STUART LEAVENWORTH

McClatchy-Tribune

BEIJING -- A strong earthquake killed at least 367 people and injured more than 1,800 in southern China's most deadly temblor since 2008.

The quake, which struck Sunday in Yunnan province, toppled thousands of homes, according to China's Xinhua news agency. Rescuers today still were trying to reach remote towns near the epicenter -- in Longtoushan township, 277 miles northeast of Yunnan's capital, Kunming -- meaning the death toll could rise significantly.

Photos posted on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, showed collapsed building and rescuers trying to search through the rubble. Xinhua reported the vast majority of the deaths, 357, occurred in Zhaotong City, with another 10 in Quijing City. Both are in Ludian County, which has a population of approximately 429,000 people.

Ma Liya, a resident of Zhaotong, told Xinhua her neighborhood looked like a battlefield after bombardment. She said her neighbor's two-story house had toppled, even though it was relatively new, and the quake was far worse than one that struck the area in 2012 and killed 81 people.

"The aftermath is much, much worse than what happened after the quake two years ago," Ma was quoted as saying. "I have never felt such strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins."

There were conflicting accounts on the quake's strength. The U.S. Geological Survey reported it reached a magnitude of 6.1, striking at 4:30 p.m. at a depth of 6 miles. Xinhua described it as a magnitude 6.5 temblor.

Earthquakes are a sensitive topic for China's ruling Communist Party, ever since roughly 90,000 people either died or went missing in the 2009 earthquake in Sichuan province. In the days after that disaster, the government attempted to suppress reports lax building standards and inspections had contributed to the death toll, including the deaths of hundreds of children in collapsed school buildings.

In a statement late Sunday, China's President Xi Jinping ordered authorities "to give top priority to saving people's lives, minimize casualties and guarantee a proper settlement for quake victims," Xinhua reported.

Premier Li Keqiang also issued a statement ordering local authorities to set up relief camps and emergency clinics for thousands of displaced families. The government also was working to restore electricity and telecommunications to the area.

"Social order in the quake zone should also be maintained," Xinhua reported Li as saying.

Xinhua reported more than 2,500 officers and soldiers, including reservists, have been dispatched to the area.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences and assistance, as did the White House.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those that lost their lives, those injured or displaced, and all the people of China on this difficult day," said Bernadette Meehan, a deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council.

U.S. disaster response officials were in contact with their Chinese counterparts.

Yunnan province, heavily mountainous and on the border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, has a history of large and extremely deadly earthquakes. A magnitude 7.7 quake killed roughly 15,000 people there in 1980, and a magnitude 7.1 quake killed 1,400 more in 1974.