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Rescuers struggle to reach China quake zone

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 7:42 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
A Chinese national flag flies in the ruins of houses in Longmen township, a town close to the epicentre of the earthquake that hit the city in Ya'an, southwest China's Sichuan province on April 21, 2013. Thousands of rescue workers combed through flattened villages in southwest China on Sunday in a race to find survivors from a powerful quake as the toll of dead and missing rose past 200. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images

LUSHAN, China — Rescuers had difficulty in reaching a remote, rural corner of southwestern China on Sunday as the toll of the dead and missing from the country's worst earthquake in three years climbed to 208 with almost 1,000 serious injuries.

The magnitude-6.6 quake struck in Lushan county, near the city of Ya'an in the southwestern province of Sichuan, close to where a devastating 7.9 quake hit in May 2008, killing 70,000.

Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan, a short drive up the valley from Ya'an, but rescuers' progress was hampered by the narrowness of the road and landslides, as well as government controls restricting access to avoid traffic jams.

“The Lushan county center is getting back to normal, but the need is still considerable in terms of shelter and materials,” said Kevin Xia of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“Supplies have had difficulty getting into the region because of the traffic jams. Most of our supplies are still on the way.”

In Ya'an, relief workers from across China expressed frustration with gaining access to Lushan and the villages beyond, up in the mountains.

“We're in a hurry. There are people that need help, and we have supplies in the back (of the car),” said one man from the Shandong Province Earthquake Emergency Response Team, who declined to give his name.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs put the number of dead at 184 and missing at 24, with more than 11,800 injured.

Hundreds of armed police were blocked from using roads that were wrecked by landslides and marched in single file with shovels en route to Baoxing, one of the hardest hit areas. Xinhua news agency said 18,000 troops were in the area.

The Foreign Ministry thanked foreign governments for offers of help, but said the country was able to cope.

“I was scared. I've never seen an earthquake this big before,” said farmer Chen Tianxiong, 37, lying on a stretcher between tents.

Premier Li Keqiang flew into the disaster zone by helicopter to comfort the injured and displaced, chatting to rescuers and clambering over rubble.

“Treat and heal your wounds with peace of mind,” Xinhua quoted Li as telling patients at a hospital.

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