At least 75 dead as earthquake strikes western China
At least 75 people were killed and more than 400 injured after a pair of earthquakes shook one of China's poorest regions.
The earthquakes, of magnitude 5.9 and 5.6, struck early on Monday morning near Dingxi, a city of around three million people spread over an area twice the size of Greater London in the western province of Gansu.
"More than 21,000 buildings were severely damaged and more than 1,200 have collapsed," an official at the provincial earthquake bureau said, adding that 371 aftershocks had been recorded.
Normally a dry and mountainous area, the epicentre of the quake has been hit with weeks of heavy rain and flooding and the tremors set of a series of calamitous landslides, burying local houses.
Dingxi's local economy is built on farming yams, apricots and walnuts, and on the harvesting of herbs used in Chinese medicine, but the average income in the area is less than £1,200 a year and many of the affected houses were crudely built from mud bricks and corrugated steel, leaving them vulnerable to the impact.
"The rescue work is hard because the building has been completely buried," said one survivor to China Central Television, standing next to a house in which 12 people had been buried.
More than 2,000 soldiers from the People's Liberation Army quickly reached the scene and fanned out over the area to mount a rescue operation. After a series of deadly quakes in recent years, China is perhaps the best equipped country in the world for such operations.
"We are rushing to the scene," said Tang Xiaoming, the deputy mayor of Dingxi to CCTV. "The damage to houses made from earth bricks has been severe and many are now unusable," he added, cautioning that many victims were still buried.
Communications and electricity were cut to the two worst affected areas.
Heavy rain is expected in the area later in the week, said a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, adding that 200 tents, 2,000 warm jackets and more than 1,000 kits containing basic household items had been dispatched from the central city of Xi'an.
China's worst disaster in recent years was a 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck the south western province of Sichuan in 2008, leaving 90,000 people dead or missing.