Quakes hit China's remote west

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The Independent Online

Strong earthquakes hit China's remote western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang today but both appear to have struck sparsely populated, mountainous areas and caused only limited damage.

The more powerful quake shook Tibet in the late afternoon, from an epicentre around 80 kilometres west of the regional capital Lhasa. It was a magnitude 6.6 tremor, the US Geological Survey said on its website.

Residents in the city said they had felt the quake, but there was no visible damage. Closer to the epicentre, in the county of Qushui, buildings trembled and windows rattled but a hospital official said there were no reports of any injuries.

"It lasted for around one minute and there was an aftershock about fifteen minutes later," said Zhang Dong, who works in the office of the director of Qushui County Hospital.

"The building is still fine but windows trembled loudly. Nobody is hurt around us so far."

It came the day after a quake in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan killed 70 and flattened a village, and the same day as another strong quake in Afghanistan.

China is also still smarting from the memory of the massive Sichuan earthquake, which killed at least 80,000 and devastated whole towns on 12 May.

Tibet's seismological department sent a team to the area and local officials planned a briefing in the evening, but there was no damage reported at cultural sites like the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's traditional seat, the official Xinhua agency said.

Just after midnight local time a magnitude 5.7 quake hit an area near China's western border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, about 20 minutes after the Kyrgyzstan tremor.

Four homes collapsed and more than 200 were damaged, but nobody was hurt, Xinhua reported.

The Kyrgyzstan earthquake, measuring 6.3 according to the US Geological Survey, jolted an area between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - Central Asia's most densely populated corner prone to instability and ethnic tension.

"The death toll might be 65-70, according to preliminary reports," said emergencies ministry spokesman Abdusamat Payazov from the regional centre of Osh.

Payazov said another 50 people were injured, some of them severely, in the high-altitude village of Nura on Kyrgyzstan's border with China. The village had been destroyed.

"The village has been levelled," the spokesman said.

He said the emergencies ministry and the military were sending more rescue teams and doctors to the village, which has a population of just under 1,000.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev would visit Nura tomorrow, his administration said. The Russian embassy in Kyrgyzstan said Moscow would provide humanitarian aid to the impoverished country.