Page last updated at 05:59 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 06:59 UK

China earthquake kills hundreds in Qinghai


Chinese TV has been showing the damage to buildings

At least 300 people have died and others are trapped under rubble after a magnitude-6.9 earthquake struck China's Qinghai province, officials say.

The powerful tremor hit remote Yushu county, 500km south-west of provincial capital Xining, at 0749 (2349 GMT).

Chinese TV showed wrecked buildings and people scrabbling through debris, as the government began a rescue misssion.

Yushu is hundreds of miles from an airport, and it is thought rescue crews may take time to reach the quake zone.

"Soldiers have been dispatched to save the people buried in the collapsed houses," local official Huang Limin was quoted as saying by China's state news agency Xinhua.

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A Yushu resident told Reuters news agency rescuers were trying to pull survivors from buildings.

"A lot of one-storey houses have collapsed. Taller buildings have held up, but there are big cracks in them," he said.

One official told journalists more than 85% of buildings near the epicentre had collapsed.

The official added that "a lot of students" had been buried after part of a vocational school collapsed.

Many of the buildings in Yushu were though to be made from wood.

Quake-prone region

Karsum Nyima, the Yushu county television station's deputy head of news, told China's state-run CCTV that school students had been assembled in outside playgrounds, although school buildings had not collapsed.

Michael Bristow
Michael Bristow, BBC News, Beijing

The earthquake struck just before 0800 local time - when many people were still at home. It was followed by three aftershocks.

Some media reports say most buildings in the town near the epicentre fell down. Grainy pictures on Chinese television showed rescuers pulling at the rubble of one collapsed structure. Soldiers have been sent to the area to help with the rescue.

The earthquake happened in a remote and sparsely populated area on the Tibetan plateau. The area is regularly hit by earthquakes.

"In a flash, the houses went down. It was a terrible earthquake. In a small park, there is a Buddhist tower and the top of the tower fell off," he said.

"Everybody is out on the streets, standing in front of their houses, trying to find their family members."

Zhuo De, an ethnic Tibetan resident of Yushu, who spoke by phone from the capital of Qinghai province, Xining, said there could be many more casualties.

"The homes are built with thick walls and are strong, but if they collapsed they could hurt many people inside," he said.

The remote high-altitude region is prone to earthquakes, but officials from the US Geological Survey said this was the strongest quake the area had seen since 1976.

The region, which is home to ethnic Mongolians and Tibetan farmers and herdsmen, is dotted with coal, tin, lead and copper mines.

China's Sichuan province, which neighbours Qinghai, suffered a huge earthquake in 2008, when thousands of schoolchildren were among the 87,000 people killed or missing.

Five million people also lost their homes, and officials estimated rebuilding work would take at least three years.

The government later punished people who had compiled lists of the victims and had suggested shoddy school-building was partly to blame for the high death toll.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES China earthquake death toll rises - 24 mins ago
National Post Quake kills 400; destroys homes on Tibet plateau - 2 hrs ago
Telegraph China quake: many trapped - 3 hrs ago
Itar Tass China quake death toll exceeds 600, many trapped under debris - 3 hrs ago
New York Times Death Toll in China Quake Rises to 617 - 5 hrs ago

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