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China quake rescuers battle landslides, debris


Clogged roads, debris and landslides impeded rescuers Monday as they battled to find survivors of a powerful earthquake in mountainous southwest China that has left at least 188 dead.

Huge boulders blocked rescue vehicles along roads leading to some of the worst-hit areas, and some areas were only accessible by foot along broken passes through the rough terrain.

Survivors including the elderly were carried out on the backs of neighbours as well as by helicopter, as rescuers were also bolstered by thousands of civilian volunteers who rushed to the area to help.

State broadcaster CCTV showed orange-suited emergency workers making desperate dashes past cliff-edges, trying to avoid sudden landslides in a region weakened by more than 2,000 aftershocks.

Industrial diggers clawed through debris including the mangled remains of cars and motorbikes crushed by tumbling rocks, to clear roads also clogged by huge queues of traffic.

The 6.6-magnitude quake which hit Sichuan province Saturday has left another 25 missing and more than 11,000 injured, according to state media, while local authorities said some 17,000 families have lost their homes.

Forecasts of rain in the disaster area increased fears of deadly landslides.

"I dare not go anywhere near a mountainside," a woman named Zhu told AFP as she arrived from the devastated village of Baoxing into the centre of the county of Lushan.

"Many people are worried that the rain will bring more devastation," she added.

Another woman told AFP that she left her rural home for the busy town centre in Lushan because she was worried it was not strong enough to withstand more of the aftershocks that have shaken and terrified the region.

Premier Li Keqiang left the quake zone on Sunday, state media reported, after rushing to the area the day before to direct rescue efforts, in his first public test on disaster management since being appointed to the top post in March.

More than 17,000 Chinese soldiers and police have joined the rescue mission and five drones were sent to capture aerial images of the damage, state news agency Xinhua said.

The disaster comes five years after a massive quake in Sichuan which occurred just 200 kilometres (124 miles) from Lushan, and was one of the worst to strike China in decades, leaving 90,000 dead or missing.

The 2008 quake triggered an outpouring of public anger after the discovery that many schools collapsed while other buildings did not, creating suspicions of corruption and shoddy construction.

However, the response on China's Twitter-like "weibo" sites to Saturday's disaster has overwhelmingly been one of support, with thousands pledging to donate money and others mourning the victims.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences, saying he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life, injuries and destruction caused by the earthquake and aftershocks".

Earthquakes frequently strike China's southwest. In April 2010, a 6.9 magnitude quake killed about 2,700 people and injured 12,000 in a remote area of Qinghai province bordering the northwest of Sichuan.