Thousands lose homes in Chinese earthquake

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A powerful earthquake north of Peking left at least 47 people dead and more than 11,000 injured at the weekend. With temperatures falling to minus 20 degrees Celsius, tens of thousands of villages were yesterday spending a second night outdoors after their homes were destroyed or left in danger of collapsing.

The tremor registered 6.2 on the Richter scale when it struck at lunchtime on Saturday near a stretch of the Great Wall 150 miles north of Peking. There was no reported damage to the wall, but more than 44,000 people in dozens of villages were left homeless after their simple brick houses collapsed. Rough and hilly terrain was making it difficult for relief supplies to be brought in, officials said.

A rescue effort was mounted to supply clothing, medicines, and food, with the Chinese military drafted in to help. The official Xinhua news agency said 1,252 of the injured were seriously hurt. In four townships along the border between Zhangbei and Shangyi counties, 80 per cent of houses were flattened, said Huangfu Qing, a seismologist co-ordinating rescue work from Zhangjiakou, the largest city near the quake-hit area.

At one hospital in Zhangbei, near the epicentre, injured people lay motionless in beds or sat hooked up to drips in corridors. A doctor at the hospital, which took in 102 patients, said people were squashed by falling debris, burned by fires triggered by the quake, and scalded by stoves.

The Chinese media reported the incident, but foreign journalists were kept out at road blocks. State-run television, anxious to quell any panic in the capital, quoted government seismologists as saying there would be no more major quakes and Peking would not be affected. People living in tall buildings in Peking said they had felt Saturday's quake.

Many in this part of China remember the July 1976 earthquake in Tangshan. It officially killed 240,000, but the death toll is believed to have been far higher.

- Teresa Poole, Peking