A series of deadly quakes hit western China Wednesday morning, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.
The quakes, the largest one recorded at 6.9 on the Richter scale, demolished towns in China’s rural Qinghai Province. Qinghai borders the Sichuan, where a catastrophic earthquake killed 80,000 people in 2008.
As rescuers pull bodies from collapsed schools and mud and wood houses, the death toll–currently at 400–is expected to grow.
The earthquakes struck in a series of six over a four-hour span, with all but one earthquake registering at 5.0 or higher.
The first earthquake was minor, waking up residents in the mountainous Tibetan area, but two hours later larger earthquakes hit, demolishing towns. Qinghai’s Yushu County was the area most affected by the earthquakes.
In the Yushu capital, Jiegu Town, more than 85 percent of the town’s buildings have collapsed. Following the earthquake, fires raged throughout Jiegu, feed by broken fuel pipes, wood from demolished buildings, and strong winds.
In a horrible reminder of the school collapses of the Sichuan quake, a primary school in Jiegu caved in, trapping students as they started their morning classes. Five of the school’s 1,000 children have been reported dead.
A vocation school in Jiegu also collapsed trapping 50 students. Only three survivors have been rescued so far.
Learn the latest about the earthquakes in our Natural Disasters section.
The Qinghai Province is an impoverished region 1,200 miles southwest of Beijing inhabited by ethnic Tibetans. Because of anti-government protests in 2008, the region has been periodically closed off to foreigners.
Qinghai’s remote location has made rescue efforts difficult. Most of the roads leading to the area’s new airport are damaged, blocking access for equipment and rescuers to reach survivors. Strong winds and frequent aftershocks are also delaying rescue efforts,
Locals have reported that hospitals are overwhelmed and lacking supplies. The limited amount of doctors in the area can only administer bandages, and cannot give injections or intravenous drips.
People’s Liberation Army troops garrisoned in Yushu were reported to have secured banks, oil depots and caches of weapons and explosives. There have been no reports of looting or ethnic tension.
More Chinese military is on the way, with 1,500 airborne troops and 100 parachutists ordered to assist in the quake zone.
The Chinese earthquakes may cement 2010 as the year of the killer quake. According to the U.S. Geographical Survey, an estimated 223,543 people have been killed in earthquakes worldwide in the last four months. Wednesday’s casualties will raise that estimate.
By Adriana Padilla for PeterGreenberg.com.
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