Chinese PM visits quake hit areas as death toll mounts to 80
Beijing: China Saturday launched a major rescue and relief effort to find survivors and victims of the Yunnan earthquake that has claimed at least 80 lives, as Premier Wen Jiabao rushed to the disaster-hit mountainous region to take a stock of the situation.
Hundreds of people have been injured after the shallow earthquakes struck the mountainous southwest China and wrecked devastation yesterday. Rescue officials said today their teams had reached about 90 per cent of the affected areas.
Wen, who rushed to the Yunnan province last night, said the top concern was to guard against epidemics and ensure safety in the face of aftershocks.
The death toll may climb further, as the quakes have seriously damaged telecommunications and traffic infrastructure, making it difficult to collect information, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
"We have to keep safety as a top concern and guard against epidemics," Wen said after arriving at the quake hit area urging rescuers to treat garbage and medical waste appropriately.
"The quakes are not over yet. Aftershocks continue, and within a period of time we will need to guard against secondary and geological hazards," Wen said.
Directing rescue work in a temporary tent in the quake zone, Wen said the top priority now is to save people.
He asked rescuers to reach every village by today.
More than 200,000 people in Yunnan were relocated as more than 6,600 houses collapsed and another 430,000 damaged.
Direct economic losses were estimated at 3.5 billion yuan (USD 552 million) officials said. In Guizhou, more than 11,700 houses were found damaged.
Another 820 people were injured in the two quakes, which hit an area near Yiliang county in Yunnan and Weining county in Guizhou Province at 11:19 am and 12:16 pm yesterday, respectively.
While President Hu Jintao, who is in Russia attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, has called for immediate efforts to help with disaster relief work, Wen arrived at the quake zone late last night, and stressed that efforts to save lives should be the first priority.
Stating that the first 72 hours are critical for post-quake rescue operations, Wen, 69, who would be retiring this year after a decade long stint as PM told the rescuers to make their utmost efforts to find and rescue survivors.
Wen reached mountainous Yiliang county, one of the worst-hit areas, around 1 am today.
He spent the night visiting quake survivors in villages and hospitals, official media reported.
He has also visited places damaged by quake and floods in the past to galvanise relief efforts.
The quakes have cut off electricity and triggered landslides that have blocked roads, hampering rescue efforts.
Local meteorological authorities said the region will experience rains in the coming three days, which may also affect rescue efforts.
The Yiliang county education bureau said three primary school students are among those killed in the quakes.
Zhou Guangfu, deputy chief of the bureau, said there were 15 students in the school at the time of the first quake, eight of whom were buried.
Teachers and villagers could rescue just five of them.
Classrooms in more than 300 high and primary schools were also damaged, Zhou said.
Zhou said the bureau will inspect the county`s schools before allowing classes to resume.
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