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Rescuers battle to reach China quake victims

Rescuers with shovels and sniffer dogs comb through collapsed hillsides as the death toll stands at 89.

Last Modified: 23 Jul 2013 06:05
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Rescuers in China are battling through dusty rubble to reach victims of two shallow earthquakes that killed at least 89 people and flattened over 5700 houses.

Rescuers with shovels and sniffer dogs combed through collapsed hillsides on Tuesday, as five people were listed as missing and 628 injured following a strong earthquake in a farming region of northwest China.

State broadcaster CCTV showed on Tuesday images of soldiers digging through earth and sand to reach modest houses buried under landslides in the northwestern province of Gansu.

Seriously injured patients wrapped in blankets were put into helicopters heading to the provincial capital Lanzhou, which has the nearest major hospital.

The twin earthquakes that struck on Monday morning had magnitudes of 5.9 and 5.6, according to the US Geological Survey, but were only six miles deep, so that much of the energy released was transmitted to the surface, where it wreaked havoc. 

China's official Xinhua news agency said initial investigations showed at least 5,785 houses had collapsed and another 73,000 were severely damaged even as the overnight body count stood at 89. 

Al Jazeera's Craig Leeson, reporting from Hong Kong, said that the earthquakes struck a "very remote region", making it difficult for rescuers to operate in some of the villages.

"There were eight villages that were completely devastated by this series of earthquakes," he said.

On Monday, the government of the city of Dingxi, the worst-affected area, said more than 27,000 people were left homeless.

Xinhua said about 3,000 police and rescue personnel have been sent to the quake-hit region, though landslides and flooding have hampered their efforts, and officials said they were concerned more rain could exacerbate the need for shelter. 

Stunning experience 

Many residents in Dingxi town centre felt the main tremor despite the epicentre being some 185 kms away. 

"I was on the second floor of our building, but it felt very powerful," said Xia, the manager of the six-storey Haitian hotel. 

"Many people staying on the higher floors ran out of their rooms, looking rather stunned," she told AFP news agency.

Heavy clouds had gathered over the quake region early on Tuesday, as farmers in the largely rural area tended their goats on the mountainsides. 

Officials fear any storms could hamper the rescue efforts, bringing with them the threat of further landslides. 

Gansu abuts Sichuan province, where a 6.6 quake earlier in April killed 164 people and injured more than 6,700, China's worst quake in three years. That quake had hit close to where a devastating 7.9 temblor killed some 70,000 people in May 2008. 

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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