File - AP Photo/Xinhua/Hu Chao
China Quake Toll Nears 400, Rescuers Race to Save Lives

China today deployed thousands of soldiers, police and firefighters to Yunnan province devastated by the worst earthquake in 100 years that killed nearly 400 people and wrecked havoc in the quake-prone mountainous region.

The death toll from yesterday's earthquake stood at 398 with some people still missing.

Authorities sent 11,000 police and firefighters, over 7,000 soldiers and armed police as rescuers raced to save more people caught under the mountains of rubble.

Eight planes and several helicopters have also been rushed to the site to carry supplies and ferry the wounded to hospitals as troops poured into the remote areas badly hit by the shallow quake.

Premier Li Keqiang too rushed to the area in southwestern China to supervise the operations asking troops to focus on saving lives.

Li immediately went to Longtoushan Township, the site of the epicentre and where the casualties and building demolitions were highest.

"Saving lives is the top priority. Don't stop! Spare no effort!" he said.

It was the worst to jolt the region in 100 years, causing higher-than-expected losses, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

About 1,801 were injured in quake and 2.30 lakh people were needed to emergency evacuation, the Yunnan Civil Affairs Department said.

Nearly 80,000 rooms of 25,500 households collapsed in the quake and 1.24 lakh rooms of 39,200 households were seriously damaged, the department said.

Ludian County suffered the worst with 319 deaths followed by 66 in Qiaojia County, one in Zhaoyang District and 12 in Huize County.

Three are missing in Qiaojia. Rescuers are racing against time to save lives, the report said.

Rescuers dug out with their hands a five-year-old boy buried in debris this morning in a village in Longtoushan Township, one of the worst-hit areas.

The child had injuries to his legs and received immediate medical treatment.

"We found and successfully rescued a woman and a man, both in their forties in Longtoushan," said Li Jin, a paramilitary officer.

Rescuers offered counselling and water to the seriously injured woman and man during the rescue process.

So far firefighters in Yunnan had retrieved 75 trapped residents, including 32 survivors.

"The adverse weather and steep valleys are causing great difficulties in the rescue operation," said Zhang Yong, head of the Blue Sky Rescue Team, whose 45 members arrived at Longtoushan last night.

Quake-triggered landslides have blocked roads to the worst-hit areas, making it very difficult to transport injured residents and relief materials, several rescuers told Xinhua.

Their work has been hampered by continuous downpours, which have disrupted traffic, lowered temperatures in the remote area, and made food and medicine shortages even more dangerous.

Thundershowers and downpours are forecast in Ludian over the next few days, and temperatures could drop to 17 degrees centigrade at night.

Late last night, President Xi Jinping ordered that authorities concerned give top priority to saving people's lives, minimise casualties and guarantee a proper settlement for quake victims.

As of Monday morning, 1,363 people have received medical treatment in the quake-hit areas, said the provincial health department.

Houses, mostly made of wood, bricks and concrete, were too fragile to resist the quake. All these factors contributed to the heavy casualties, he said.

So far 460 aftershocks have been recorded in the quake-hit region, including four measuring between 4.0 and 4.9 magnitude, said Li Fei, spokesman for the Yunnan Earthquake Administration.

Li warned that strong aftershocks may occur and secondary disasters such as landslides are possible in the rainy season.

"The blocked roads and the downpours have made some disaster areas inaccessible for heavy relief vehicles," Liu Jianhua, secretary of the Communist Party of China Zhaotong Municipal Committee said.

Liu said that they are experiencing a severe shortage of professional rescue teams and facilities.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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