Rescue teams are scrambling to find survivors of an earthquake that rocked southern China on Sunday and that Chinese officials say killed at least 398 people and injured at least 1,800 others.
NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai that heavy rain and aftershocks — the U.S. Geological Survey has reported four stronger than magnitude 4.5, according to The Associated Press — are hampering efforts to bring aid to survivors.
Here’s more from Frank:
“The earthquake destroyed more than 11,000 houses in Yunnan province and damaged an additional 24,000, according to the state-run People’s Daily online.
“Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is touring the damaged area where more than 7,000 rescuers have been dispatched.”
The earthquake caused landslides that blocked many roads and rivers, and Frank reports that the damming of one river has created a lake that is rising more than 3 feet per hour, forcing residents of a nearby village to flee.
AP reports via the official Xinhua news agency that firefighters had rescued 32 trapped residents, while also recovering 43 bodies. (Information added to story at 11:31 a.m.)
The Yunnan Civil Affairs Department says that 230,000 people so far have been evacuated from their homes, and that more than 57,000 in the hardest-hit area may still need evacuation, according to Xinhua. Doctors there are reporting severe shortages of medicine and unmanageable conditions.
” ‘The critically injured patients keep coming, but we are unable to carry out operations for many of them,’ one of the doctors working at a makeshift tent in the village said. ‘It is impossible to deal with severe injuries such as intracranial hemorrhage in such conditions.’ ”
The premier tells Xinhua that an intensive rescue effort will be required. “[We can] never give up until the last minute,” he said.
One rescue volunteer told the AP that along the road from Zhaotong to Longtou, at least half the buildings had collapsed.
” ‘I saw dead bodies being wrapped in quilts and carried away,’ said [Ma Yaogi, 18], who arrived with 20 other volunteers Monday. ‘Some were wrapped with small quilts. Those must be kids.’ ”
The region is not new to severe earthquakes, the AP reports. “In 1970, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake in Yunnan killed at least 15,000 people, and a magnitude-7.1 quake killed more than 1,400 in 1974,” the news service adds. “In September 2012, 81 people died and 821 were injured in a series of quakes in the region.”
Still, many homes in the impoverished region around the epicenter were made of brick or wood, according to Xinhua — and vulnerable to earthquakes.
The U.S. Geological Survey put Sunday’s quake at a magnitude 6.1, while China measured it at 6.5.