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Earthquake kills 22 in China

About 1,000 houses crumble along border areas of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, state media say.

August 31, 2008|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — An earthquake struck southwestern China on Saturday on the border regions of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, killing 22 people and injuring at least 126, state media reported.

About 1,000 houses were destroyed, burying people in the rubble, and cracks appeared in the walls of more than 400 homes, according to the New China News Agency.

The epicenter of the quake, which struck about 4:30 p.m., was about 20 miles southeast of the Sichuan city of Panzhihua, near the border with Yunnan, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was about six miles deep.

The U.S. agency put the magnitude at 5.7, and China's news agency pegged it at 6.1. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

Sichuan was the site of a massive earthquake May 12 that killed about 70,000 people and left 5 million homeless. The government responded quickly, but a large number of children died in shoddily built schools.

Saturday's earthquake occurred in a relatively remote area. Although that limited the physical damage and the loss of life, the full extent of the damage in smaller communities may not be known for several days.

State media reported that communications around Panzhihua were disrupted. Land-line telephone service was restored within a few hours, but mobile service remained spotty, hampering the government's efforts to assess the damage.

Chinese television showed people throughout the affected area camping on streets and in the open, fearful of aftershocks.

According to the Beijing News, the Sichuan government sent 2,200 tents and 1,000 quilts to victims.

Experts said China learned a lot from the May temblor.

"Good results can come from bad things," said Zhong Dajun, director of the Beijing Economic Research Center.

At the same time, China still needs to improve its seismic building codes, supervision and inspections, disaster response and preparedness.

"Some parts of China are in active seismic areas," Zhong said. "More vigilance will give victims a greater chance of survival."

Officials with China's National Seismograph Network Center said there were three temblors in the magnitude 3.0 range shortly before and immediately after the earthquake.

The chances of a large aftershock in coming weeks were low, they added, without explanation.

An earthquake measuring 5.3 also hit northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on Saturday, but no casualties were reported.

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mark.magnie@latimes.com

Liu Ning of The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.

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