Massive Quake Hits West China, 400 Dead

Nearly 400 people are reported dead and 10,000 injured after a powerful 6.9 earthquake struck western China last night.

The quake hit at 7:49 a.m. local time in the province of Qinghai, near Tibet, collapsing hundreds of homes and some schools.

The quake's epicenter was located in Yushu county, an agricultural community of about 100,000, where most of the homes are made of mud and wood.

The government and relief agencies have begun bringing aid into the region, but efforts have been hindered by strong winds, damaged bridges and roads, and downed communications. Some roads have also been blocked by landslides, according to some reports.

"It's very soon after the earthquake and the affected area is remote," said Frank Falkenburg, Asia desk officer at Caritas Germany, a Catholic relief agency. "Phone lines are down and the fact Qinghai is an autonomous region makes the gathering of information more difficult."

Frequent aftershocks have also interrupted rescue efforts. The U.S. Geological Survey reported six temblors hitting the region in the span of less than three hours after the initial quake, with five of them registering a 5.0 magnitude or higher.

Aid workers have reported shelter and warm clothing as key needs for victims, as temperatures in the region are hovering between -3 to 14 degrees Celsius.

For humanitarian group World Vision, assessing conditions for the quake's youngest survivors is top priority.

"Based what we learn on the ground, we will be moving quickly to meet the needs of children, particularly to help them establish a normal routine again and stay clear of dangerous rubble," said World Vision staff member Meimei Leung, who will lead the group's assessment team into the area tomorrow.

The team will be bringing hygiene items together with them as well as some child-friendly kits containing toys and drawing materials children can play with as their parents struggle to cope in the immediate aftermath.

The quake comes just two years after an 8.0 quake hit the country's Sichuan province, leaving 87,000 people dead and nearly 5 million homeless.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News