Yunnan Earthquake Rescue:More Challenges Ahead

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Added On August 5, 2014

Rescuers are racing against time to save lives after a deadly quake on Sunday afternoon jolted southwest China's Yunnan Province, killing around 400 people and injuring thousands.
 
But quake-triggered landslides and continuous downpours have hampered rescue efforts. 
 
The quake occurred at 4:30 p.m on Sunday at a depth of 12 km. 
 
The epicenter was at Longtoushan Township, 23 km southwest of the county seat of Ludian. 
 
It was the worst jolt to hit the region in the last 100 years, causing higher-than-expected losses.
 
More than a million people have been affected and about 230,000 are being evacuated from the disaster area. A further 1,800 people have been injured.
 
Rescue efforts are fully underway as the first 72 hours after an earthquake is often considered the crucial time to save lives. 
 
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): DENG SHENGQUN, Rescue Soldier
"Come on! Come on! Lead us to the most severely stricken areas. (local resident: the buildings could collapse at any moment.) Are they still collapsing? (local resident: yes.) "
 
Rescuers dug survivors buried in debris out with their hands on Monday morning in a village in Longtoushan Township, one of the worst-hit areas.
 
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): DENG SHENGQUN, PLA officer
"Get his head out first, let him catch his breath. Protect his head before starting to get his body out."
 
But rescue work is also facing severe challenges as telecommunication and transportation are the main problems the area needs to solve.
 
Quake-triggered landslides have blocked roads to the worst-hit areas, making it difficult to transport injured residents and relief materials.
 
Their work has also been hampered by continuous downpours, which have disrupted traffic, lowered temperatures in the remote area, and made food and medicine shortages even worse.
 
Thundershowers and downpours are forecast in Ludian over the next few days, and temperatures could drop to 17 degrees centigrade at night.
 
Premier Li Keqiang on Monday arrived in Ludian County, the epicenter of the earthquake. 
 
He called for all-out efforts to rescue and treat the injured and for those suffering serious injuries to be transferred to better hospitals in nearby regions.
 
Rescuers have evacuated residents threatened by a lake which was formed by the quake in Jiangbian Village, Zhixiang Township of Huize County. It had flooded 20 houses.
 
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): local villager
Reporter: When was the quake lake formed?
Villager: On Monday night.
Reporter: Have any houses been flooded?
Villager: Yes many houses are flooded and many have collapsed.
Reporter: Where are the residents of the houses that flooded?
Villager: They have all been evacuated.
Reporter: Where are they right now?
Villager: At a temporary safehouse arranged by the county government.
Reporter: Has any one come here to inspect the lake?
Villager: Yes a helicopter came here to inspect the water levels of the lake.
Reporter: Did the water level increase at a fast speed?
Villager: Yes, which is why so many houses have been affected by the flooding.
Reporter: At about what a speed?
Villager: It increased very fast, at about 1.5 meters per hour.
 
If the water level keeps rising by about one meter per hour, it could take 70 hours for the water level of the lake to reach the level of a nearby dam. 
 
Once that happened, it would cause severe damage to local people's lives and the local government is taking measures to solve the issue.
 
The National Committee for Disaster Reduction lifted the national disaster relief level from grade III to I at 11 a.m. on Monday, the highest level possible. 
 
Grade I is usually issued for "especially major natural disasters" in which more than 200 people are killed or more than 1 million people are relocated.
 
The severe damage and death toll caused by Sunday's earthquake have been blamed by the China Earthquake Administration on the fragility of local buildings, the area's dense population and the quake's shallow epicenter.
 
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE)ZHANG JUNWEI, Yunnan Earthquake Bureau
"Most rural houses in the county were made of brick or wood, were not designed to be resistant to quakes, and many of them were outdated."
 
Ludian is recognized as especially poor by the Chinese government, which includes the county seat on its state-level poverty list.
 
Each square kilometer of Ludian houses an average of 265 people, twice the provincial average.
 
The shallowness of the quake meant it fiercely shook the earth's surface, adding to the likelihood of secondary disasters such as landslides in the area's current rainy season.