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Strong Quake Brings Death, Destruction To Chinese Region Near Tibet


Destroyed houses after an earthquake hit in the China's Qinghai Province
(RFE/RL) -- China's state media has said a strong earthquake in a western province bordering Tibet has killed about 400 people, with more than 8,000 injured.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake in Quinghai Province measured a magnitude of 6.9. Chinese seismic authorities rated it even higher, at 7.1.

The earthquake struck China's largely ethnic-Tibetan Yushu county in Qinghai Province early in the day.

The casualty toll is expected to rise as many buildings collapsed, including part of a vocational school in the town of Jiegu near the epicenter, where students are reportedly trapped under debris.

Xinhua news agency reported the scene described by a local publicity official named as Zhuohuaxia: "The streets of Jiegu are thronged with panic and full of injured people, with many of them bleeding from their injuries."

He said the biggest problem facing the rescue effort is a lack of medicines and medical staff, as well as tents to shelter survivors from the near-freezing temperatures. Other officials complained about the lack of heavy equipment, which means rescuers have had to dig through the rubble with their bare hands.

The Qinghai provincial government said in a statement that thousands of heavy coats, blankets, and tents, have already been dispatched to the affected area. Troops and police have also been sent to assist in the rescue work, and more are expected.

One team of firemen was coming from the regional center, Golmud city, with many of the items needed for the rescue operation.

Threat Of Aftershocks

The region was struck by several powerful aftershocks later in the day, which have contributed to panic and uncertainty.

"Up till now we have recorded five aftershocks that measured above 5 in magnitude. The strongest one, that struck around 9:30 a.m. [0130 GMT] measures 6.3," said Liu Jie, the head of the forecasting department of the China Earthquake Network Center.

"The major quake measures 7.1 magnitude, and the strongest aftershock is 6.3. We are expecting strong aftershocks. People should watch out for aftershocks measuring at least 6 in the next couple of days."

Experts say this remote, high-altitude region in Qinghai is prone to earthquakes. It is sparsely inhabited country, populated mainly by Tibetan and Mongolian herdsmen and farmers.

A massive 8-magnitude quake in May 2008 in neighboring Sichuan Province devastated a huge area of southwestern China, leaving at least 87,000 people dead or missing.

compiled from agency reports