Exactly two years after an earthquake devastated this province in western China, another quake of similar magnitude tore through its neighbouring regions, leaving at least 400 dead and more than 10,000 injured.

A 7.1-magnitude quake struck a remote border area in north-west Qinghai province early on Wednesday morning, bringing down houses, temples, schools and government buildings, and leaving thousands trapped under the debris.

The epicentre of the quake was in Yushu county, in a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture which borders Sichuan. State media reported that the quake, and a series of aftershocks including one measuring 6.3 in magnitude, left the worst-hit town of Jiegu in a pile of rubble and triggered landslides that had cut off many of the affected regions.

Power supply to much of southern Qinghai had stopped, telecommunications had been disrupted and one reservoir had been feared to have cracked, said reports.

“The streets in Jiegu are thronged with panic, with injured people, with many bleeding from the head,” Zhou Huaxia, a spokesman with the local government, told State-run Xinhua news agency “Many students are buried under the debris due to building collapse at a vocational school. I can see injured people everywhere. The biggest problem now is that we lack tents, we lack medical equipment, medicine and medical workers.”

The epicentre, he said, was in a sparsely populated pasturing area. “I think the quake would not cause casualties as heavy as those in Jiegu,” he added, though officials expected the number of casualties to continue to rise as rescue work continued.

More than 5,000 rescuers, including soldiers and medical workers, had been sent to the affected areas. “Our top priority is to save students,” said Kang Zifu, an army officer in the rescue operations.

Wednesday's quake struck Qinghai just as thousands in neighbouring Sichuan prepared to mark the two-year anniversary of an 8-magnitude quake, which left 70,000 dead and 18,000 missing.

Yushu lies less than a day's drive away from Wenchuan, the town at the epicentre of the May 12 earthquake, that was left in ruins two years ago. Its residents said they did not feel the impact of Wednesday's quake.

They will, ironically, next month celebrate the rebuilding of their shattered lives and homes. “Schools have reopened, and many homes have been rebuilt,” said Cao Zong Han, a farmer in Yammen village, north of Wenchuan, speaking to The Hindu earlier this week. He lost his home and his farming land under a collapsing mountain when the quake struck. “Life is now slowly coming back to normal,” he said.

But just as one county finally struggles to come to terms with the tragedy and loss inflicted by disaster, another, just up the provincial highway, will now have to go through the traumatic process all over again.

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