China Earthquake Death Toll Increases to 617
China mobilized thousands of rescue workers in a race to save people stuck under the rubble of collapsed homes and schools after a 6.9 magnitude earthquake left at least at least 400 dead and thousands injured.
More than 85 percent of houses were flattened in the town of Jiegu, close to the epicenter in Qinghai province, which is sandwiched between the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. China Central Television showed residents digging through rubble with their hands. Others struggled through fire and smoke to reach eight people the broadcaster said were trapped under a collapsed hotel.
Urgent assistance is needed to help at least 10,000 people injured after the quake struck at 7:49 a.m. local time yesterday, Xinhua reported. Temperatures are forecast to drop as low as minus 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) tonight in the mountainous region on the Tibetan Plateau, more than 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level.
Efforts “by every means” should be made to rescue those trapped, President Hu Jintao, on a trip to Washington, and Premier Wen Jiabao said in a statement posted on the central government’s Web site.
Vice Premier Hui Liangyu arrived to oversee relief efforts.
A 2008 tremblor that hit Sichuan province in 2008 killed about 90,000 people after schools and other buildings collapsed, sparking protests and accusations that corrupt officials turned a blind eye to sub-standard construction practices.
At least one-third of the buildings in the Yushu Vocational School collapsed, and a student told Xinhua that there were several students in the building at the time. Rescue efforts have been hampered by a shortage of equipment, the agency said.
There were reports of students trapped in other schools, the Associated Press reported, without citing anyone.
Many of the buildings in the region, which has a significant ethnic-Tibetan population, are made of wood and mud, Xinhua said.
Ethic Tibetans and Uighurs, in neighboring Xinjiang province, have complained for years that they are discriminated against by the majority Han Chinese and have not benefited from the country’s economic growth. Deadly clashes broke out in both regions in the past few years, undermining the central government’s main stated aim of ensuring social stability.
Six hundred paramilitary personnel based in the vicinity were immediately dispatched to the disaster area. By 2:30 p.m. local time, they had rescued 113 people trapped under rubble, said Xinhau, the state-owned news agency.
More than 3,700 paramilitary troops in Qinghai province were due to land at the disaster site by 9 p.m. local time yesterday, Xinhua said. The airforce sent three planes to help transport rescue teams and 100 geologists to the site, it said.
State-controlled China Eastern Airlines Corp., the nation’s second-biggest carrier, sent two aircraft to help transport personnel and supplies, the news agency reported.
Help was also en route from other provinces: Guangdong in the south and neighboring Sichuan sent 600 firefighters, it said.
The national earthquake center said there is a risk of “strong” secondary quakes in coming days. Four aftershocks with a magnitude of 4.8 or higher followed within four hours of the main quake, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site.
Sichuan province was hit by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in May of 2008 as China prepared to host the Olympics in Beijing.
The epicenter of yesterday’s earthquake was near the town of Jiegu, also known as Gyegu, which is the seat of Yushu prefecture and home to about 100,000 residents, Xinhua reported.
Electricity was to the area has been cut, roads damaged and telecommunications disrupted, according to the report. A local reservoir was also cracked, and workers were trying to prevent water flooding out, Xinhua said.
The Ministry of Finance said it allocated 200 million yuan ($29 million) to deal with the aftermath of the quake.
Qinghai has a population of 5.57 million, the second- smallest of China’s provinces after Tibet. The province’s economy is also only larger than Tibet’s. Qinghai was used as a nuclear weapons testing site. The 721,000-square-kilometer province is larger than Texas.
The quake also killed five people and injured another in Sichuan province and was felt in parts of Tibet, according to Xinhua.
Hu met U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on April 12 and is due in Brazil from April 14-17 to meet leaders from Brazil, Russia and India.
The Chinese president returned early from the Group of Eight summit in July of last year after ethnic rioting erupted in Xinjiang. Yesterday’s earthquake in Qinghai is unlikely to result in a repeat, said Willy Lam Wo-Lap, adjunct professor of history at Chinese University in Hong Kong.
“This is simply an earthquake which involves no military or political issues, unlike the Xinjiang riots,” Lam said. The Qinghai quake is also not as severe as the one that hit Sichuan.
PetroChina Co., the world’s biggest company by market value, hasn’t received any reports of disruptions to its oil and gas fields in Qinghai, which are about 700 kilometers from the epicenter, Zong Yiping said yesterday.
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