China begins rescue efforts, seeks international aid after earthquake More than 200 killed in Yunnan province

February 05, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING -- China mobilized its military yesterday for rescue work and appealed for international assistance after a powerful earthquake leveled thousands of mud-walled village homes on Saturday night and killed more than 200 people in the southern province of Yunnan.

Daylight yesterday revealed a vista of devastation in Lijiang and Zhongdian counties, 200 miles northwest of the provincial capital, Kunming, as rescue workers struggled to cope with 14,000 injured residents, 3,800 of them with serious injuries, the state-run New China News Agency said.

The most seriously injured were being evacuated by military helicopters as local hospitals and medical clinics were overrun with victims.

Freezing nighttime temperatures and terrifying aftershocks sent hundreds of thousands of shivering victims and residents into open areas, adding to the chaos of rescue work.

The death toll climbed to 240 late yesterday as rescue teams fanned out into worst-hit villages in search of survivors amid fears the final death toll could rise over 300, an official at the Lijiang disaster coordination center said by telephone.

Lijiang County is a scenic area with snow-covered peaks. The picturesque town of Lijiang, 1,300 miles southwest of Beijing, is the center of the Naxi people, an ethnic minority with a population of 275,000.

But the traditional homes that decorate the mountainous region are vulnerable to earthquakes because they are made of mud bricks, with heavy roofs of rounded gray tiles on wooden rafters.

An estimated 186,000 houses collapsed, and as many as 300,000 people have fled homes damaged by the quake, which struck at 7:14 p.m. local time and measured 7.0 on the Richter scale.

China's state television service broadcast images of bloodied and dazed survivors groping for assistance in a torchlight scene of pandemonium.

In the first 26 hours after the first temblor, local seismologists recorded 184 aftershocks, including 18 that measured 4.0 to 4.8. They warned that aftershocks as strong as 6.0 could be expected in the next few days, making it unsafe for thousands to return home.

Temperatures dropped to several degrees below freezing overnight, prompting rescue workers to appeal for blankets, food, and medicine.

Nearly 2,000 soldiers from provincial units of the Chinese army and other militia forces were sent to the area yesterday, and Wu Bangguo, a deputy prime minister, flew to the area to direct relief operations.

Last night, Sun Baiqiu, vice president of the Red Cross Society of China, said the organization had begun rescue operations in the region and appealed for prompt assistance from abroad. Urgent requests for assistance were conveyed to Red Cross societies in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The Yunnan Red Cross sent 50 doctors and $156,600 worth of relief supplies to the area, but these supplies will not begin to meet the need, officials said.

Taiwan's prime minister, Lian Chan, said on the island's state television: "We hope, through appropriate channels, to show our care for the people there."

Yunnan is east of northern Myanmar, the former Burma. The province, on a major fault line between the Eurasian and Pacific rim's tectonic plates, is one of China's most seismically active regions. China's most serious earthquake in recent years was in Yunnan in 1988, when a tremor measuring 7.6 killed 939 people.

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