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Chinese earthquake victims pulled to safety in subfreezing weather

BEIJING: Braving below-freezing conditions, rescuers pulled to safety victims of an earthquake that rocked a remote area in China’s northwestern Gansu province, while survivors faced months of uncertainty ahead without permanent shelter.

The magnitude-6.2 earthquake jolted Jishishan county near the border straddling Gansu and Qinghai provinces a minute before midnight on Monday (Dec 18), sending frightened residents out of homes into the cold in the dead of the night, damaging roads, power and water lines as well as agricultural production facilities, and triggering land and mudslides.

In Gansu, 113 people had been found dead as of 9am on Wednesday (0100 GMT), and 782 were injured, authorities said. The death toll in neighbouring Qinghai province rose to 18 with 198 injured as of 5.30am on Wednesday.

Seventy-eight people have been found alive in Gansu, where rescue operations ended on Tuesday afternoon, Chinese media said, as focus shifted to treating the wounded and resettling residents as a months-long winter loomed.

It was not immediately clear whether the search in Qinghai had ended or not.

In Gansu, more than 207,000 homes were wrecked and nearly 15,000 houses collapsed, affecting more than 145,000 people. More than 128,000 emergency supply items including tents, quilts, tent lights and folding beds, were delivered while food such as steamed buns and instant noodles were provided to the victims.

The quake-stricken area is geographically a transition zone between two plateaus, featuring terrains of altitudes ranging from 1,800m to 4,300m with “very complex” topography, CCTV said.

Recovery from Monday night’s earthquake has been further challenged by the powerful cold snap that has gripped most of China since last week. Temperatures around the quake epicentre in Gansu fell to around -15 degrees Celsius on Tuesday night.

According to local media citing researchers, people trapped under rubble exposed to -10 degrees Celsius conditions without help run the risk of developing hypothermia and could only stay alive for between five and 10 hours if uninjured.

In Qinghai’s quake-hit Haidong, Du Haiyi said his family home had been completely levelled.

The 21-year-old told Reuters he had managed to save his mother and 16-year-old sister, who were trapped under debris the night of the quake.

“My parents were pulled out from underneath this, but I don’t know how,” Du said. “We ran to wherever we could.”

Du, an occasional labourer, said his family of seven had slept exposed to the elements with neither sustenance nor adequate covers, taking shelter in a tent provided by the local government.

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