Rescuers are battling frequent aftershocks and heavy rains to search for survivors in the rubble after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake rattled southwest China's Yunnan Province Sunday, killing at least 367 people and injuring 1,801 others.
The strong quake struck at 4:30 p.m. Sunday (Beijing Time) with a depth of 12 km. The epicenter is in Longtoushan Township, 23 km southwest of the county seat of Ludian, in Zhaotong City, the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) reported.
In Zhaotong, the quake has left 296 people dead in Ludian, 60 dead in Qiaojia County and caused another death in the city's Zhaoyang District, according to the Yunnan Provincial Department of Civil Affairs.
Meanwhile, in Huize County of the neighboring Qujing City, the quake has killed 10 people.
In addition, five people are reported missing, including three in Qiaojia and two in Huize, and 57,200 residents need to be transferred to safe areas, according to the department.
In instructions issued late Sunday night, President Xi Jinping ordered that authorities concerned give top priority to saving people's lives, minimize casualties and guarantee a proper settlement for quake victims.
He called for all-out efforts in relief operation and strengthening aftershock monitoring to prevent secondary disasters.
Premier Li Keqiang also made instructions for disaster relief, urging local authorities to try every possible means to save the injured people and those buried in rubble.
He required that local authorities provide residents in quake zone with adequate food, clothes, clean drinking water, temporary shelters and timely medical treatment.
QUAKE WREAKS HAVOC
More than 12,000 houses have been toppled and 30,000 damaged in the quake zone. The quake has also cut traffic, electricity and telecommunications in Ludian County.
Aftershocks have triggered landslides and cracked many bridges, forcing rescuers to walk on foot to the quake-hit area.
The landslides blocked a river in Hongshiyan Village, forming a barrier lake that threatens 800 villagers.
Two main roads leading to Ludian that were damaged by the quake and downpours have reopened after emergency repair, staff of Zhaotong's road administration told Xinhua.
Zhou Minzheng, a resident of Longquan Village, was seen escorting his nephew to hospital late Sunday night. He told Xinhua that his nephew, whose parents were both killed in the quake, is in a coma. Their houses have collapsed.
Pictures and video clips on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, show firefighters helping those stuck in collapsed houses get out of the rubble. Many injured are put on stretchers by doctors and nurses while receiving intravenous injection.
Ma Hao, a college student who is volunteering for the rescue at Longtoushan Township, told Xinhua that he saw bodies buried in ruins, and that he helped to carry more than 40 injured people out of the collapsed buildings.
"Honestly, it's such a shame that we had no time to take care of the bodies. We need to help those alive first," he said.
"I felt a strong jolt on my fifth-floor home and some small objects in my home fell off the shelves," said a resident in the county seat of Ludian.
Another resident said it felt like "sailing a boat" when he was driving a car in the tremor.
Ma Liya, a resident in the county seat, told Xinhua via telephone that the streets were like "battlefield after bombardment." She added that the house of her neighbor, a new two-story building, was toppled.
"It's so terrible. The aftermath is much much worse than what happened after the quake two years ago. I have never felt so strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins," she said.
However, Ma is worrying more about the family of her cousin, who live in the epicenter Longtoushan, as her calls to the families went unanswered.
"I just hope they are safe and sound. They didn't answer the calls," she said.
The quake toppled and cracked many buildings, particularly old ones and residential homes.
"Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries," said Chen Guoyong, head of the Longtoushan Township, adding an rescue operation is under way.
Sadness and scare are still hanging in the air in the crowded People's Hospital of Ludian County, where wards and corridors are filled with sickbeds, as doctors and nurses are working attentively to treat the injured.
Chen Lihong, a local villager hailing from Longtoushan Township, screamed out loud as a nurse helped turn over her body in bed. She broke her waist when her neighbor's house collapsed in the quake.
"The houses crumbled all at once," said Liu Lumei, Chen's mother-in-law while comforting Chen who was moaning in pain."It was so scary," Liu told Xinhua at the hospital.
Villager Tang Shaoyuan is also in the hospital taking care of his mother, who sustained injuries in her back, legs and shoulders.
"I was collecting red peppers in my house when the quake struck, so I ran outside immediately," Tang said."Two of my neighbors were buried under the ruins."
Local authorities have dispatched more than 7,000 rescuers to the quake zone, including troops, police officers, fire-fighters and government officials.
They were joined by more than 2,500 troops sent by the Chengdu Military Area Command of the People's Liberation Army, and 60 medical workers and 90 rescuers sent by authorities in the neighboring Sichuan Province.
In addition, the Yunnan Branch of China Eastern Airlines has brought relief work teams to Zhaotong.
The civil affairs authorities said that 20,050 tents, 15,000 folding beds, 29,500 quilts and 25,000 coats have been sent to the area.
In a race to save more lives, the Red Cross Society of China and some non-governmental organizations have also sent relief supplies to Ludian.
However, unfavorable weather conditions may hamper rescue and relief work, as it is raining hard in the quake zone. More rains are forecast in the coming week, according to the China Meteorological Administration.
Located in the northeast of Yunnan, Ludian County has a population of about 430,000. A big number of houses in the county's rural area are mud-and-brick shacks that are extremely vulnerable in earthquakes.
Zhaotong, about 300 km from Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan, is on the quake belt and has been occasionally jolted by quakes.
In September 2012, a 5.7-magnitude quake caused more than 80 deaths and injured more than 800 people.
In 1974, a 7.1-magnitude quake in the same place killed more than 1,400 people.
Jiang Haikun, a research fellow with the CENC, said that aftershocks measuring 5 to 6 on the Richter scale are possible in the area, but he ruled out the possibility of stronger quakes in the epicenter.
"Yunnan is prone to moderate and strong quakes, and such quakes usually occur on similar scales. We will keep a close eye over the aftershocks," Jiang told Xinhua. LUDIAN, Yunnan, Aug. 4 (Xinhua)