BEIJING, Sept 7 Two shallow 5.6 magnitude
earthquakes hit mountainous southwestern China on Friday,
killing at least 64 people and forcing tens of thousands of
people from damaged buildings, state media said.
The quakes struck near the border of Yunnan and Guizhou
provinces, the first one at 11:19 a.m. (0319 GMT) and the second
one about 45 minutes later, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
About 700 people were injured and 20,000 homes damaged in
the remote mountainous region about 350 km (210 miles) from the
Yunnan provincial capital Kunming, the official Xinhua news
As the number of dead climbed throughout the day, state
media reported that Premier Wen Jiabao would travel to the area,
as he has often done when disasters strike Chinese regions.
President Hu Jintao called for disaster relief to be
dispatched to the area while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok.
Most of the victims were from Yiliang county in Yunnan, near
the epicentre of the quakes, which struck at a depth of about 9
km (5.6 miles) according to the USGS.
By mid-afternoon, authorities had moved more than 100,000
from the area as a series of more than 60 aftershocks struck. No
deaths were reported in Guizhou province.
Calls to police stations and hospitals in Yiliang went
unanswered, but a worker at No. 2 Renmin Hospital in Zhaotong
city said medical staff were busy treating the injured.
"We have admitted injured people, but don't have an overall
number yet, and we can't comment without government approval,"
he told Reuters, declining to give his name.
Buildings in China's less developed regions are often thrown
up with little regard for construction standards, making them
susceptible to earthquakes.
Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed boulder-covered
roadways, abandoned cars and black smoke pouring from buildings.
"The hardest part of the rescue now is traffic. Roads are
blocked and rescuers have to climb the mountains to reach
hard-hit villages," Xinhua quoted Li Fuchun, an official from
Luozehe, the town at the epicentre of the quake, as saying.
The death toll may rise as rescuers reach villages cut off
by landslides, the news agency said.
STRUCTURES PRONE TO COLLAPSE
Many structures in the area are built with mud and timber,
making them more prone to collapse, the International Federation
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
"On the other hand, extricating people trapped in these
structures may be easier than from under concrete/brick homes,
meaning that there could be many more injuries proportionate to
the number of deaths," it said.
In 2008, about 87,600 people were killed in the southwestern
province of Sichuan when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit. Many of
the victims died in the rubble of homes and schools built
without adequate steel reinforcement.
A 6.9 magnitude earthquake in April 2010 killed nearly 3,000
people in a remote part of western Qinghai province, devastating
much of Yushu county, where many displaced by the disaster still
live in tents.
Quakes with an epicentre less than 70 km below the surface
are considered shallow and can cause significant damage, even at
Christchurch, the largest city in New Zealand's South
Island, is still recovering from a 5-km-deep quake measuring 6.3
which killed 182 people in February 2011.