Earthquake In China Leaves 156 Dead, 5,500 injured

2:18 PM, Apr 20, 2013   |    comments
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In this photo provided by China's official Xinhua News Agency, a giant rock blocks the road, about 12.5 miles from the county seat of Lushan in Ya'an city, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Saturday.(Photo: Hai Mingwei, AP)

BEIJING - A powerful earthquake struck the Sichuan province of China on Saturday, killing more than 150 people and injured thousands in the same region where a 2008 quake took nearly 90,000 lives.

The magnitude-6.6 earthquake toppled buildings, triggered landslides and disrupted phone and power connections when it struck just after 8 a.m. local time Saturday in the mountainous Lushan county. The area is located just 53 miles from the 2008 disaster and is also on the seismically active Longmenshan fault line.

The China Earthquake Administration said at least 156 people had died, including 96 in Lushan. In the jurisdiction of Ya'an, which administers Lushan, 19 people were reported missing and more than 5,500 people were injured, the administration said.

The quake's shallow depth, less than 8 miles, likely magnified the impact.

The first night after the quake, rain slowed rescue work. Forecasts called for more rain in the next several days, and the China Meteorological Administration warned of possible landslides and other geological disasters.

State media showed images of collapsed buildings, roads blocked by fallen rocks and hundreds of people seeking medical attention at a makeshift triage center outside the county hospital in Lushan, located at the edge of the Tibetan plateau.

China's Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang ordered "all possible measures" to rescue victims, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency. More than 7,000 soldiers and armed police were sent to the disaster area as well as more than 1,000 provincial rescue workers and hundreds of doctors.

Premier Li flew by helicopter to the quake zone in Lushan on Saturday afternoon, where he met survivors and local government and army leaders.

"The current, most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours since the quake's occurrence, the golden time for saving lives," Li said, according to Xinhua reports.

Authorities' quick response will likely win popular support in China, where many citizens consider government officials corrupt and self-serving. However, the quake may also serve as a test of transparency for the new regime especially if evidence is uncovered that shoddy construction contributed to deaths and injuries.

After the 2008 quake, authorities went to great lengths to bury bad news about the high number of schools that collapsed, killing thousands of children. It also jailed people who gathered information on the issue or tried to expose the corrupt practices that had led to the poorly built schools.

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday's quake, Chinese Internet users focused on trying to help. Bloggers in the quake zone turned Saturday to Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like service, to call for assistance.

Organizations and individuals quickly responded with volunteer action, including Li Chengpeng, a Sichuan-based writer and former soccer commentator, whose profile as a social critic rose after the 2008 disaster when he joined rescue efforts and saw the schools firsthand. On his Sina Weibo account, which has millions of followers, Li posted Saturday that he had organized an expert rescue team to send to Ya'an, and welcomed donations of money or manpower.

Other volunteer efforts also spread via Weibo. Inspirational stories emerged, including one about local Ya'an television anchorwoman Chen Ying, who rushed to file reports while dressed in her wedding gown on her wedding day. And Chinese Central Television reported that the giant pandas were safe in the country's biggest panda research center in Ya'an, located about 26 miles from the epicenter.

Contributing: Sunny Yang; The Associated Press

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