China: Sichuan province earthquake death toll rises to 160, with 6700 injured (VIDEO)



Rescuers sit on ruins of a house in Longmen township, an area very close to the epicenter of an earthquake that hit the city of Ya'an, southwest China's Sichuan province on April 20, 2013.

HONG KONG — The death toll from China's Sichuan province earthquake has risen to 160 as rescuers continue to sift through more than 10,000 homes destroyed in the disaster.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, 6700 were injured in the 6.6 magnitude quake, which occurred at the site of a massive earthquake five years ago.

Thousands of homes and businesses were flattened in the disaster, which hit at about 8.02 a.m. local time Saturday when many people were in their homes, either sleeping or having breakfast, the Sichuan government said, the Bangkok Post reported.

The US Geological Survey registered the quake at measuring 6.6 and its epicentre was 115km (70 miles) west of provincial capital Chengdu, the BBC reported. 

Experts said it was a shallow quake, hitting just 12km below the surface, which can cause more extensive damage.

Rescuers were hampered throughout the day by heavy rain, which triggered landslides as well as aftershocks, but in some encouraging news, 91 people were pulled from the rubble alive.

Authorities said there were concerns of more deaths and injuries as they could not access some areas of the province because roads were blocked and power down. 

Tens of thousands of people were seeking shelter in tents or sleeping outside as night fell Saturday, some afraid to return to their homes due to the aftershocks and many left homeless.

The largest reported aftershock had a magnitude of 5.1.

Rescue efforts are underway, with 6,000 troops from the People's Liberation Army dispatched to the area, according to Xinhua news agency. Dozens of people have already been pulled from the rubble in Lushan, the most damaged city from the quake.

State media reported that Prime Minister Li Keqiang flew to the disaster zone Saturday afternoon to survey the damage.

Xinhua reported more than 17,000 military and police were involved in the rescue mission and five drones were sent to capture aerial images. 

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As night fell Saturday rescue efforts were slowed by rain which is predicted for several days, AP reported.

Not only would the weather make the search more difficult but the China Meteorological Administration warned of possible landslides and other geological disasters.

The quake occurred in the same region as the devastating earthquake of 2008, which killed roughly 90,000 people and triggered heavy criticism of the government when it was discovered that many elementary schools collapsed due to shoddy construction.

State broadcaster CCTV interviewed one of hundreds of people being treated in a a makeshift outdoor hospital in Lushan, who said: "We still live in our old house, the new one is not ready yet. Our house just collapsed. Everything collapsed."

Many Chinese have taken to social media to express sadness in the wake of the tragedy. Businessman Ran Wang listed several hopes for the recovery effort in a post on Weibo. In a post translated by Tea Leaf Nation, he wrote:

Hopes for the Ya’an Earthquake: 1) Rescue efforts are timely and orderly, keeping deaths and injuries as low as possible 2) media are permitted to report freely, and there is no censorship, cover-ups, or control, the rights of the people and society to be informed during natural disasters is respected; 3) NGOs are allowed to actively help in accordance with clear regulations and under third-party supervision, official charity organizations are not given the opportunity to steal money

Last September at least eight people were killed when twin tremors hit nearby Yunnan province and triggered dangerous landslides in the area.

Ben Carlson contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Jennifer Mattson contributed to this report from New York, and Alexander Besant from Geneva.