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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 14:29 GMT
China aftershocks claim more lives
Homeless locals bed down outside their wrecked home
Thousands have been forced to sleep out of doors

Aftershocks have claimed more lives in north-west China in the wake of a massive tremor which killed more than 260.

Five people died in aftershocks in the Xinjiang region, including some rescue workers, giving a confirmed toll so far of 266, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

With almost 10,000 homes levelled by the quake, aid workers have warned that many people face desperate problems in what is already one of China's poorest areas.

Two prisons near the epicentre have reported all their prisoners are safe and well
Xinhua news agency

"Something we have to bear in mind is that these people didn't have much to start with," said France Hurtubise of the Red Cross in China.

"Now they've lost all their belongings and members of their family. We should try to help them as much as possible."

Lucky escapes

Average family incomes in the predominantly farming area hit by Monday's quake are only around $120 a year, according to officials.

The death toll in the earthquake could easily have been far higher, locals say.

A homeless family sit around a camp fire
Entire villages were levelled

When the tremor hit just after 1000 local time, thousands of schoolchildren had just left school buildings for a standard half hour of morning physical education outdoors.

"If the quake had happened a half an hour earlier or later, it would have been unimaginable," Ahmaijiang Bake of the education bureau in Bachu , the worst-hit county, told the AFP news agency.

Some entire villages in Bachu were wiped out by the tremor, measured as having a magnitude of 6.8.

More than 4,000 people were injured in the quake, and thousands of rescuers are sifting through rubble to look for further survivors.

Relief supplies

Conditions are made worse by freezing night-time temperatures in the arid region, which is near China's mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan.

The affected area

The majority of Xinjiang's population are Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who speak a Turkic-based language.

Chinese authorities have sent thousands of tents and blankets to the stricken area.

The remote region is in a high-risk earthquake zone and has been hit by 18 tremors with a magnitude over 5.0 since 1996, killing 47 people.

China's worst earthquake in recent times came in 1976, when the city of Tangshan, near the capital of Beijing, was virtually levelled by a quake measuring 7.9 which killed an estimated 250,000 people.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Francis Markus
"The fear and the suffering are far from over"



SEE ALSO:
India pushing north prompts quakes
24 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Deadly history of earthquakes
24 Feb 03 |  In Depth


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