A magnitude 6.9 tremor struck a countryside area, near Tibet, just before 8am this morning when most families were still at home. It was followed by a series of aftershocks.The main quake sent people fleeing as it toppled houses made of mud and wood, said Karsum Nyima, the Yushu county television station's deputy head of news. "In a flash, the houses went down. It was a terrible earthquake," he told state broadcaster CCTV by phone. "In a small park, there is a Buddhist tower and the top of the tower fell off. ... Everybody is out on the streets, standing in front of their houses, trying to find their family members."
CCTV said the death toll had risen to about 300, with another 8,000 people injured. A local government web site said there were about 80,000 people living in the area, mostly herders and farmers. Phone lines were down, hindering rescue efforts and the main route to the airport blocked said The China Earthquake Administration. In Jiegu, a town near the epicentre, more than 85 per cent of houses had collapsed, while large cracks have appeared on buildings still standing, the official Xinhua news agency quoted Zhuohuaxia, a local publicity official, as saying. "The streets in Jiegu are thronged with panic and full of injured people, with many of them bleeding from their injuries," he said. "I can see injured people everywhere. The biggest problem now is that we lack tents, we lack medical equipment, medicine and medical workers." Students were also buried under the debris of a collapsed vocational school, Zhuohuaxia said.
Chinese state television showed paramilitary police using shovels to dig around a house with a collapsed wooden roof. A local military official, Shi Huajie, told CCTV rescuers were working with limited equipment. "The difficulty we face is that we don't have any excavators. Many of the people have been buried and our soldiers are trying to pull them out with human labour," Shi said. "It is very difficult to save people with our bare hands." Xinhua cited officials at the China Earthquake Networks Centre as saying at least 18 aftershocks have been reported and that more temblors exceeding magnitude 6 were likely to occur in the coming days.
In 2008, a magnitude-7.9 quake in Sichuan province left almost 90,000 people dead or missing.