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Southern China earthquake kills hundreds

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 11:22 p.m.

BEIJING — A strong earthquake in southern China's Yunnan province toppled thousands of homes on Sunday, killing more than 380 people and injuring more than 1,800.

About 12,000 homes collapsed in Ludian, a densely populated county 277 miles northeast of Yunnan's capital, Kunming, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The magnitude-6.1 quake struck at 4:30 p.m. at a depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Its epicenter was in Longtoushan township, 14 miles southwest of the city of Zhaotong, the Ludian county seat.

Ma Liya, a resident of Zhaotong, told Xinhua that the streets there were like a “battlefield after bombardment.” She said her neighbor's house — a new, two-story building — had toppled, and that the quake was far worse than one that struck the area in 2012 and killed 81 people.

“The aftermath is much, much worse than what happened after the quake two years ago,” Ma said. “I have never felt such strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins.”

The earthquake was the strongest to hit Yunnan province in 14 years, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

News reports said rescuers were struggling to reach victims in more remote towns.

“There are countless people waiting to be rescued,” Mao Lihui, a volunteer on one of the rescue teams, told the Beijing News newspaper. There had been frequent aftershocks, triggering further landslides, he added, and rescue teams were clearing the roads with their hands.

Transportation, electricity and telecommunications were cut off in Ludian county, CCTV said.

The news agency showed emergency workers climbing over large boulders that had blocked roads in the mountainous and poor region.

Photos on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media site, showed rescuers searching through flattened buildings and people injured amid toppled bricks.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered “his condolences to the Chinese Government and the families of those killed,” according to a statement from his office.

The statement said the U.N. is ready to “lend its assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs” and “to mobilize any international support needed.”

The White House also offered its condolences.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those that lost their lives,” said National Security Council deputy spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. “The United States stands ready to assist.”

Many of the homes that collapsed in Ludian, which has a population of about 429,000, were old and made of brick, Xinhua said.

The region where the quake occurred is largely agricultural — with farming and mining as the top industries — and prone to earthquakes.

Relief efforts were under way, and more than 2,500 troops were dispatched to the region, Xinhua said.

The Red Cross Society of China allocated quilts, jackets and tents for those left homeless by the quake, while Red Cross branches in Hong Kong, Macau and neighboring Sichuan province sent relief supplies.

Since a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing, China has invested heavily in a national earthquake monitoring and early-warning system that cannot forecast a tremor but might be able to notify people seconds before seismic waves reach their area.

The China News Service, a state-run news agency, said seismology bureaus had issued warnings for Zhaotong 10 seconds before the quake reached the city and gave a 57-second warning for the provincial capital, Kunming.

In Sichuan's Yibin city, the Yibin News website reported residents received cellphone warnings 40 seconds before the quake.

An earthquake rocked Yunnan on Jan. 14, 2000, killing seven people and causing significant damage in the province.

The quake was moderate, with a magnitude of 5.9, but it left more than 2,500 injured and nearly 92,500 homeless and destroyed more than 41,000 homes.

It was preceded by a magnitude-5.5 foreshock.

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