Sub-zero temperatures and seismic aftershocks were hindering rescue efforts in Lijiang yesterday as the death toll from Saturday night's earthquake reached about 250. Doctors working in tents and outdoors battled to treat about 3,700 severely injured people, while hundreds of thousands of the homeless prepared to spend their third night outdoors.
Yunnan provincial officials said that rescue teams had evacuated 22 foreign tourists stranded at Tiger Leaping Gorge, a popular day trip about 60 miles from Lijiang. One American man was seriously injured, and another four tourists were slightly hurt. The Lijiang valley, in south-west China, is dominated by Jade Dragon Snow mountain, a popular tourist destination. However, there have been no reports of foreigners killed in the quake, which registered 7 on the Richter scale.
Television pictures last night showed dazed villagers picking through the rubble of their homes. Provincial officials said 180,000 buildings had been destroyed. The Chinese Red Cross Society has appealed for international aid: food, warm clothing, tents and quilts are desperately needed for the impoverished area. Temperatures have plunged much lower than normal for this time of year, dropping to -10C at night. Sixteen of the county's 24 towns were heavily damaged, and power and water supplies have been disrupted in many areas.
In some parts of the old town of Lijiang about 10 per cent of the homes were destroyed. The town is the centre for the Naxi minority nationality and, with its cobbled streets and distinctive architecture, was one of the most picturesque places in China.
Buildings were further weakened as aftershocks continued. The largest tremor, in the early morning, reached 6 on the Richter scale. New casualties seemed to have been avoided as terrified residents had already left their homes. "It doesn't matter whether people still have homes or they don't. Everyone is too scared to go inside," said one official.
Outside the towns, north-west Yunnan province is one of the poorest regions of China, and medical facilities are extremely limited.