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With roads reportedly blocked and weather conditions worsening from heavy winds, dust and snow, the situation remains largely unknown at the epicenter of powerful earthquake that struck in western China on Wednesday morning.
State media says 400 people are confirmed dead and more 10,000 are injured, while central television has shown footage of broad devastation — scores of flattened buildings, reportedly with people buried inside.
With the race underway by rescuers to reach survivors, China's latest natural disaster will test its government in many ways, including its willingness to allow free flow of information.
Although the government tolerated open reporting by domestic and foreign reporters in the early days after a massive earthquake that killed 80,000 people in Sichuan province in 2008, this test may be even more pointed.
Wednesday's quake struck in Qinghai Province, part of the greater Tibetan region, a politically dicey area that can prove problematic for journalists in normal conditions.
The coming days will tell whether China will allow journalists to tell a story that might include some warts.
According to some reports, 70 percent of schools in the earthquake-struck county of Qinghai were flattened. A barrage of stories on the thousands of children who died in collapsed schools, linked to shoddy construction and corruption, led China to tighten controls on reporting in Sichuan two years ago.