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67 Dead, Many Buried After Qinghai Quake

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7.1-magnitude quake hits Qinghai 

At least 67 people died and many others were buried under the debris after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit northwest China's Qinghai Province early on Wednesday, the China Earthquake Administration said.

More than 85 percent of the houses in the Jiegu Township near the epicenter had collapsed, said Zhuohuaxia, a publicity official with the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu, told Xinhua.

"The streets in Jiegu are thronged with panic, injured people, with many bleeding in the head," he said.

"Many students are buried under the debris due to building collapse at a vocational school," he said.

"A large crack appears in the wall of the Yushu Hotel, and part of a government office building also collapsed," he said.

"I can see injured people everywhere. The biggest problem now is that we lack tents, we lack medical equipment, medicine and medical workers," he said.

The epicenter is at the Rima Village in the Shanglaxiu Township, about 50 km west of Jiegu, the government seat of the Yushu prefecture, and about 800 km away from Xining, the Qinghai provincial capital.

"The epicenter is a pasturing area and sparsely-populated. I think the quake would not cause casualties as heavy as those in Jiegu," Zhuohuaxia said.

Jiegu has a population of about 100,000, including permanent residents and migrant people, he added.

"The houses here are almost all made of wood and earthen walls, which will easily collapse when a quake happens," said Karsum Nyima, deputy director of the News Department of the Yushu TV Station.

Although Yushu is a sparsely-populated region, experts said the quake is very likely to cause "heavy" casualties.

"The strong quake has a shallow depth and the epicenter is close to the prefecture seat," said Sun Shihong, a research fellow with the China Earthquake Networks Center in Beijing.

"It is estimated there will be heavy casualties, as the quake occurred in the early morning and most of the local residents were yet to get up," he said.

"In addition, according to the building structure and damages, a large number of people will be injured," he added.

The quake led to a temporary cut of telecommunications and damaged roads to the airport. The epicenter is about 200 km away from the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and it was not immediately known whether it had been affected.

Local government officials and soldiers have been dispatched to save the buried people.

Pupils of some primary schools were among the buried, but the number was unknown, said Shi Huajie, an army police officer in the rescue operation.

"We have to mainly rely on our hands to clear away the debris as we have no large excavating machines," he said. "We have no medical equipment, either."

The quake struck the Yushu County in the Yushu prefecture at 7:49 AM with a depth of about 33 km. The epicenter is calculated to be 33.1 north and 96.7 east, the China Earthquake Networks Center reported.

At least three aftershocks have been reported so far, with the biggest being 6.3 magnitude about an hour and 36 minutes later.

Earlier on 5:39 AM, a 4.7-magnitude jolted the county with a depth of about 6 km, the center reported.

Yushu is a quake-prone region.

(Xinhua News Agency April 14, 2010)