HONG KONG —
Rescue workers in southern China are battling heavy rain as they try to reach survivors from Sunday’s earthquake that killed at least 398 people and injured 1800 others. The magnitude 6.1 quake was the strongest in more than a decade in Yunnan province.
Rescue workers in Yunnan’s Ludian county, continued looking for survivors on Monday after the earthquake hit the largely rural area on Sunday.
Officials say many people are still missing, but rescue operations are hindered by heavy rains and landslides which have blocked access to some of the affected areas.
The weather conditions forced emergency crews to carry equipment on foot, and delayed the landing of army helicopters dispatched on Monday from the neighboring province of Sichuan.
A policeman involved with the rescue efforts to clear up a road leading to the epicenter told China's state television CCTV big rocks fell on the road shortly after the earthquake.
PM surveys damage
“There was no way we could break through them with the machine. We have to use explosives to open up a path for rescue services," he said.
The epicenter was in Ludian county, home to more than 250,000 people.
China's premier Li Keqiang arrived in the city of Zhaotong, in Ludian county, on Monday afternoon. He then walked on foot for five kilometers because rubble obstructed roads near the epicenter, Chinese media reported.
Li instructed local authorities to provide adequate food, shelter and medical treatment. Media reports throughout Monday highlighted a shortage of water, tents as well as blood and medicines.
“Authorities dispatched people from the National Search and Rescue Team, and they will enter these areas using helicopters if the roads are blocked," explained Long Enshen with the Sichuan University’s Institute of Disaster Management and Reconstruction. "But their effectiveness at the moment is still limited. In the initial stage of the rescue work, the first and second day, it is up to local authorities to organize relief."
State news agency Xinhua said most of the homes in Ludian county were old and made of bricks. 12,000 of them collapsed, according to Xinhua.
“This is an area where the economy is still largely underdeveloped. The buildings and construction material are bad, that is why we are seeing such a high number of casualties,” stated Long.
Local authorities are on high alert also for a quake lake, formed after debris blocked a river near the epicenter.
Chinese media report that 800 residents were evacuated from the area, after water rose at a speed of one meter per hour.
This was the most powerful earthquake to hit Yunnan in 14 years, according to Xinhua.
Six years ago, a devastating earthquake killed tens of thousands of people in neighboring Sichuan province.