- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

HONG KONG, Feb. 25 (UPI) — Tens of thousands of people are homeless in near freezing temperatures after a powerful earthquake struck China's northwestern province of Xinjiang on Monday killing 262 people and injuring more than 2,000, state-run media reported.

Rescue workers worked through the night in devastated villages using whatever tools they could find to dig through rubble and debris in hopes of finding survivors. Some crews were equipped with dogs trained to locate earthquake victims.

At least 8,000 buildings were toppled at the quake's epicenter in Bachu County, state-run media said. Ten thousand rooms were destroyed and 40,000 were damaged in the quake.

"The regional administration has allocated 2,500 tents and 1,500 cotton-wedded quilts to the disaster-hit areas which include Bachu, Jiashi, Yopurga, Yengisar, Markit and Kashi counties," the official Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.

The government urgently requested China's central Hubei province to send 6,000 tents to shelter the homeless. Officials said it was difficult to give precise figures for the number of injured since it was continuing to rise, said the official China Daily newspaper.

"Damages are still being calculated and the death toll could still increase, making it difficult to provide an accurate estimate at this time," Zhang Yong, a disaster prevention official with the Xinjiang Seismology Bureau, told the China Daily.

First shipments of tents and blankets arrived at the scene and more are on the way. More than 5,000 police and the military were sent to the area to carry out rescue efforts.

Xinhua described the earthquake as the worst in the area since the ruling Communists took power in 1949.

The powerful earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, rocked the remote western desert region bordering Kurdestan at 10:03 am, China's Sate Seismological Bureau said. The epicenter was in lightly populated Jiashi County, officials said neighboring Bachu County and its 370,000 residents suffered more devastation.

Many of those killed and injured were students at a Bachu county school that collapsed, and also destroyed was a one-story clinic, a county civil affairs official said. Many other places in the area, including Kashi City, Artux County and Markit County also experienced strong tremors.

Officials in the regional capital, Urumqi, are sending shipments of grain, milk, blankets and other relief supplies to the Bachu County, where temperatures were hovering only a few degrees above freezing, said state media. The Red Cross Society of China sent $30,200 to Xinjiang and the local Red Cross Society sent $24,200 worth of cotton-padded quilts and clothes to the site.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visiting Beijing on a diplomatic tour of Asia to round up support for a possible strike on Iraq, offered his condolences to Chinese President Jiang Zemin Monday. The Foreign Ministry of Greece said its government would offer humanitarian assistance to the afflicted areas amounting to $215,000.

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