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School collapse kills 76 as Chinese quake deaths reach 617

Sixty-six children and 10 teachers died when a school collapsed in yesterday’s earthquake, in a scenario that echoes China’s last major quake in 2008. The death toll from yesterday’s disaster in a remote part of western China climbed to 617, overnight as thousands of survivors battled freezing temperatures after a 6.9-magnitude tremor flattened Jiegu  town in Qinghai province.

By this morning 313 people were reported missing and 9,110 injured and 970 of them seriously, country’s official Xinhua news agency reported. Children and teachers, who died in demolished schools, were among the dead. The collapse of classrooms in neighbouring Sichuan province during a May 2008 earthquake sparked protests from grieving parents and accusations that corrupt officials ignored sub-standard construction practices. That 7.9-magnitude quake killed about 90,000 people.

Yesterday at least one-third of the buildings at the Yushu Vocational school were levelled, including a girls’ dormitory and a multimedia centre,  Xinhua reported. Dozens of parents waited there for news about dozens of people believed to be trapped in the rubble. “When the quake struck, the students had just finished their morning exercise. Most of them were having breakfast in the school canteen or cleaning their classrooms,” Xinhua quoted school principal Kunga Tenzin as saying. “Still, some were trapped in the dorms.”

Many of the buildings in the region, which has a significant ethnic-Tibetan population, are made of wood and mud, Xinhua said.  “There are corpses everywhere on the street,” said Pierre Deve, working in Yushu for the non-governmental organisation Snowland Service Group. “They don’t have time to deal with them. There is a real need for medicine, for food, for water and for doctors.” Many people gave up the search for survivors in the rubble of mud-brick homes that had simply disappeared just hours after the quake struck yesterday morning, Mr Deve told The Times newspaper. “People are terrified that there will be another earthquake. They are also afraid that a dam that has been cracked will burst and flood the town.”

Hundreds more rescuers are set to arrive after a damaged airstrip reopened late yesterday, and The Ministry of Civil Affairs is sending 5,000 tents, 50,000 cotton coats and 50,000 quilts to the region. “China has more than enough supplies and is very well equipped to deal with a disaster of this size,” said Paul Conneally, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva.

Hayley attribution