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China rushes relief after Sichuan quake kills 180

Ya'an: Rescuers and relief teams struggled to rush supplies into the rural hills of China's Sichuan province Sunday after an earthquake left at least 180 people dead and more than 11,000 injured and prompted frightened survivors to spend a night in cars, tents and makeshift shelters.

The earthquake Saturday morning triggered landslides that cut off roads and disrupted phone and power connections in mountainous Lushan county, in Sichuan's Ya'an city area, which is further south on the same fault line where a devastating quake wreaked widespread damage across the region five years ago.

Agencies

Along the main roads, ambulances, fire engines and military trucks piled high with supplies waited in long lines. Agencies

Hardest hit were villages further up the valleys, where farmers grow rice, vegetables and corn on terraced plots. Rescuers hiked into neighboring Baoxing county after its roads were cut off, reaching it overnight, state media reported. In Longmen village, authorities said nearly all the buildings had been destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking by the quake.

In the fog-covered town of Shuangli, corn farmer Zheng Xianlan said Sunday that she had rushed from the fields back to her home when the quake struck, and cried when she saw that the roof collapsed. She then spent the night outdoors on a worn sofa using a plastic raincoat for cover.

"We don't earn much money. We don't know what we will do now," said 58-year-old Zheng, her eyes welling with tears. "The government only brought one tent for the whole village so far, but that's not enough for us."

Along the main roads, ambulances, fire engines and military trucks piled high with supplies waited in long lines, some turning back to try other routes when roads were impassable. Rescuers were forced to dynamite boulders that had fallen across roads, and rains Saturday night slowed rescue work, state media reported.

At the farming village of Longquan, where all the houses were damaged and some destroyed in the community of about 300 people, rescuers had arrived to collect the bodies of three dead, but had not yet provided other services as of Sunday midday, villagers said. Yang Shanqing, 37, said his father, brother and nephew were killed when their house collapsed.

"Now we don't have any drinking water or power," Longquan villager Yang Yiyun, 58, told The Associated Press. "All we can do is wait for the government to come and help us out."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had arrived Saturday afternoon by helicopter in Ya'an to direct rescue efforts, the government's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"The current priority is to save lives," Li said, after visiting hospitals, tents and climbing on a pile of rubble to view the devastation, according to Xinhua.

Xinhua, citing the Sichuan province emergency command center, said at least 180 people were killed and 11,227 injured.

The quake — measured by China's earthquake administration at magnitude 7.0 and by the US Geological Survey at 6.6 — struck shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, when many people were at home, sleeping or having breakfast.

Tens of thousands of people moved into tents or cars, unable to return home or too afraid to go back as aftershocks continued to jolt the region. In Ya'an, residents sat in groups outside convenience stores watching the news on television sets early Sunday.

As in most natural disasters, the government mobilized thousands of soldiers and others, sending excavators and other heavy machinery as well as tents, blankets and other emergency supplies. Two soldiers died after their vehicle slide off a road and rolled down a cliff, state media reported.

The Chinese Red Cross said it had deployed relief teams with supplies of food, water, medicine and rescue equipment to the disaster areas.

Lushan, where the quake struck, lies where the fertile Sichuan plain meets foothills that eventually rise to the Tibetan plateau and sits atop the Longmenshan fault. It was along the same fault line that a devastating magnitude-7.9 quake struck on May 12, 2008, leaving more than 90,000 people dead or missing and presumed dead in one of the worst natural disasters to strike China in recent decades.

"It was just like May 12," Liu Xi, a writer in Ya'an city, said via a private message on his account on the Twitter-like Weibo service. "All the home decorations fell at once, and the old house cracked."

The official Xinhua News Agency said the well-known Bifengxia panda preserve, which is near Lushan, was not affected by the quake. Dozens of pandas were moved to Bifengxia from another preserve, Wolong, after its habitat was wrecked by the 2008 quake.

AP