Relief Teams Assess China Quake Damage, Death Toll Rises to 600

Teams from international relief agencies descended on western China today to assess the damage from yesterday's 6.9 magnitude quake.

The quake, which hit the province of Qinghai, near Tibet, at 7:49 local time on Wednesday, left 617 people dead and nearly 10,000 injured, with assessment of the impact still developing.

In the county of Yushu, where the quake's epicenter was located, nearly 85 percent of the buildings have collapsed.

According to aid agency the Amity Foundation, which is part of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance, the total population of the Yushu Prefecture is about 357,267 with 105,895 families. Most of the homes in the region are made from wood and mud.

Officials fear that thousands of people are trapped under the rubble of their own homes as the quake struck in the morning time when most people were still at home.

The quake also toppled some schools and part of a government office building. Roads and bridges have also been damaged, as well as communication lines.

Eighteen aftershocks have been recorded so far, many of them above a 5.0 magnitude. Survivors are gathering in open spaces now in fear of more tremors, which officials say are likely to come.

Shelter and warm clothing are currently the most pressing needs to protect survivors from freezing temperatures and possible showers. The Qinghai provincial government has reported that 5,000 tents and 100,000 coats and blankets have been sent to the affected region.

Speaking to crowd of survivors through a megaphone today, Premier Wen Jiabao said that, "As long as there is the slightest hope, we will make efforts that are 100-fold," according to Reuters.

"Your disaster is our disaster, your suffering is our suffering," added Jiabao, who postponed his visit to Southeast Asia, scheduled for next week.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is currently in Latin America attending an economic summit, said that he will cut his trip short in order to address the aftermath of the quake.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers for the victims of the tragedy, saying, "I implore God that they may find relief from their suffering and courage in this time of adversity."

"I hope that there will be no lack of solidarity shown," he added.

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