The picturesque town of Lijiang in south-west China, featured two years ago in the acclaimed Channel 4 series Beyond the Clouds, has been hit by the country's deadliest earthquake in eight years, killing more than 240 people, injuring 14,000 and destroying thousands of homes.
Last night hundreds of thousands of homeless victims were sleeping in the open in freezing weather for a second night, jolted by aftershocks. The Chinese Red Cross appealed for international aid. The quake, measuring 7 on the open-ended Richter scale, struck the remote region of Yunnan province on Saturday night when many people were at home eating dinner.
Lijiang, which is the centre of the 275,000 Naxi minority people, was close to the epicentre of the earthquake. The nearby town of Zhongdian, capital of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Region, was also badly hit, and last night was cut off from the outside world, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The quake is the second major disaster to hit China within days. Last week at least 120 people were killed when an illegal cache of dynamite blew up in the basement of a five-storey apartment building, wiping out a street in a suburb of Shaoyang city, in Hunan province.
The authorities at the weekend named a laid-off worker, He Geng, who they said had stored 28 tons of dynamite in the basement after receiving it in lieu of a debt. Mr He was said to have been running an illegal explosives firm, probably selling dynamite to private coal-mining operators.
In Lijiang and the surrounding rural areas yesterday, 2,000 soldiers and teams of doctors were searching the rubble and trying to reach remote mountainous villagers. As well as Naxis, the region is home to several other minority nationalities including Yi, Musuo, Pumi and Lisu.
Lijiang is divided between a new town and the beautiful Naxi old town, made up of cobbled alleys, old-style Naxi stone terraced houses, and a system of water channels. About 10 per cent of the old town had collapsed, according to first reports. The Beyond the Clouds series, broadcast in Britain in early 1994, told the stories of a group of Lijiang inhabitants, including the old town's "grannies", dressed in the traditional blue and white Naxi costume.
The Lijiang valley is popular with foreigners. Xinhua said one unnamed foreign tourist had been seriously hurt. Residents and foreigners were sleeping in makeshift camps in parks and sports fields as the region continued to be hit by aftershocks.