China Earthquake: Death Toll Jumps

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China’s Premier Li Keqiang flew to the southwest province of Sichuan after an earthquake yesterday killed at least 156 people, injured about 3,000 and left more than 100,000 homeless.

President Xi Jinping and Li earlier ordered “all possible measures” to rescue victims of the quake, which hit at 8:02 a.m. in Lushan, a county about 1,650 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Beijing. Civilian relief groups, military units along with a national emergency response team of doctors, police and firefighters headed to the region to deal with the disaster, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The temblor, measured at magnitude 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey, hit on the same fault line as a 7.9 quake that devastated nearby Wenchuan in May 2008. That was the country’s deadliest seismic event in more than three decades, leaving more than 87,000 people dead or missing including as many as 5,335 children, according to government figures.

Li’s rush to the region a month into his first term as premier echoes that of his predecessor Wen Jiabao, who flew to Wenchuan and oversaw relief work to reassure people that the Communist Party was doing everything possible to help.

“The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours since the quake’s occurrence, the golden time for saving lives,” Li was quoted as saying in an English-language report by Xinhua. State television showed Li on a plane with a map in front of him holding meetings with officials.

Chengdu Deaths

Lushan county lies about 140 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital Chengdu. The city government said the temblor led to the deaths of 8 people and injured 188, according to China National Radio. It wasn’t clear whether those victims were included in the latest total.

More than 6,000 military and armed police personnel have been sent to help with rescue and relief efforts, Xinhua said. The Ministry of Civil Affairs said it sent relief materials including 30,000 tents, 50,000 cotton blankets and 10,000 makeshift beds.

The Lushan county publicity department estimates about 140,000 people will need to be relocated, Xinhua said.

A team made up of officials from eight ministries, including civil affairs, health and transport have gone to the epicenter to direct relief work, Xinhua said.

Lushan is administered by Ya’an, a city with a population of 1.53 million. CCTV said about 120,000 people live in the area of the quake’s epicenter.

Houses Destroyed

The hardest-hit areas are Longmen and Qingren townships, Xinhua said, citing Jin Zelin, an official with the provincial armed police corps. Most of the buildings in the old urban area of Lushan county and Longmen have collapsed, Xinhua said, citing the local government. Three other townships in the county are cut off, it said.

Lushan is a mountainous rural area which was badly hit by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when many houses were destroyed, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

About 120,000 people are in need of temporary shelter, food and water, Francis Markus, Beijing-based East Asia spokesman for the organization, said in a telephone interview. Teams from the China Red Cross trying to get to townships at the epicenter are stuck because the road is blocked by a collapsed house, he said. Roads are also congested with rescue vehicles, he added.

“The first 24 hours are critical after an earthquake to get to people who may be trapped,” Markus said. “These kinds of problems are happening right across the area and presenting big logistical challenges to rescue workers.”

Shattered Glass

CCTV’s news channel broadcast live from Lushan, interviewing officials, locals and some of the less seriously injured who were being treated in the streets. People with serious injuries are being taken to the Ya’an People’s Hospital, the broadcaster said.

Footage showed collapsed buildings and white tents erected in public areas as temporary shelter. Soldiers were seen pulling away rubble to search for survivors. A pregnant woman was among those rescued, CCTV reported.

Power lines and mobile phone base stations were knocked out and five hydropower stations in Ya’an were disconnected, Xinhua said.

The State Administration of Work Safety ordered mining in the region halted and the inspection of oil and gas pipelines to avoid leaks and explosions, according to Xinhua. Sinopec Group, Asia’s largest refiner, said no damage has been reported at its production facilities in the area, Xinhua said.

Production Halted

The earthquake hasn’t affected PetroChina Co. (857)’s oil and gas production or transmission operations in the area, Mao Zefeng, a spokesman in Beijing for the country’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, said by telephone yesterday. The company hasn’t reported any casualties, he said.

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) halted production at its plant in the region and told employees to go home to ensure the safety of their families, spokesman Ryo Sakai said in Shanghai where he is attending an auto show. Aichi, Japan-based Toyota and partner China FAW Group Corp. started production of the Prado sport- utility vehicle in Chengdu in 2010.

The temblor was felt in neighboring Chongqing municipality and in the provinces of Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi and Yunnan, Xinhua reported. Multiple aftershocks jolted the area, including two measured at magnitude 5.1 by USGS. CCTV said there had been 264 aftershocks by noon.

Secondary Disasters

Pan Huaiwen, director of the China Earthquake Networks Center, warned of secondary disasters including landslides, mud- rock flows and the collapse of caves and riverbanks, Xinhua said.

Western, southwestern and northwestern China are prone to earthquakes. A magnitude 5.1 temblor struck Yunnan province on April 17 and one measuring 5.4 was reported in Sichuan in January.

At least 80 people died after two magnitude 5.6 earthquakes shook Yunnan and Guizhou provinces in September, according to Xinhua reports at the time. A 6.9 temblor which hit Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau in April 2010 had a final death toll of about 2,700, according to data from the provincial government. (Bloomberg)

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