At least 186 dead, 11,300 injured; 1,097 aftershocks recorded

The death toll from Saturday’s devastating earthquake in China’s southwestern Sichuan province rose by at least three dozen overnight, as rescuers battled to reach hundreds of people believed to be still trapped under debris in remote rural counties.

The death toll from the 7.0-magnitude earthquake had risen to 193, up from 157 on Saturday night, with more than 10,574 people injured, as of 10.30 am (8 am IST) on Sunday, said the Department of Civil Affairs of Sichuan province.

The earthquake struck the city of Ya’an, home to 1.5 million residents, in the Lushan county, located around 140 km from the provincial capital Chengdu. The impact of the earthquake was strong enough to rattle buildings in Chengdu and to be felt in as many as five surrounding provinces, with landslides reported in Yunnan province and at least one death reported in neighbouring Shaanxi.

The rural areas of Sichuan, however, bore the brunt of the devastation. The worst hit regions were the predominantly rural counties of Longmen, Baoxing and Taiping, located near Ya’an. In Longmen, a township of 7,000 homes, as many as 5,000 houses collapsed, leaving hundreds trapped under the rubble.

The remote location of the counties and landslides in the region have slowed down rescue and recovery work, with rescuers only managing to reach Baoxing on Sunday morning, a full 24 hours after the earthquake struck.

Rescuers, mainly firemen, had to hike into the county because roads had been blocked, the official Xinhua news agency reported, suggesting that it will be difficult for authorities to move in heavy equipment to help clear the debris. More than 870 rescuers had been stranded en route, while relief vehicles were stuck in a traffic jam stretching for more than 7 km, Xinhua reported.

In Baoxing, home to 58,000 people, 26 people have been confirmed killed and more than 2,500 injured so far. That number is expected to rise as more rescuers reach the isolated county and begin clearing the rubble.

Ma Jun, the head of the county, told State media “almost every home” in the county had been damaged, with water, electricity and gas supplies cut off. Electricians from the provincial capital Chengdu were airlifted into Baoxing on Saturday night in an effort to restore the power supply.

“The top priority is to save lives,” he said. “Meanwhile, we will resettle the residents and reopen roads.”

The China Earthquake Administration (CEA) said on Sunday that as many as 1,097 aftershocks had been recorded, with three of them greater than 5.0-magnitude.

Saturday’s earthquake struck parts of Sichuan that were still struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake in 2008 that left at least 90,000 people dead or missing. The CEA said the earthquake originated in the earthquake-prone Longmenshan fracture zone, where 12 major earthquakes of at least 5.0-magnitude have been recorded since 1900. Saturday’s earthquake, the CEA said, was “not expected to be as disastrous” as the 2008 earthquake

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