ZHAOTONG, Yunnan, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Sixty-four people have been confirmed dead and 715 others injured after multiple earthquakes struck a mountainous region in southwest China on Friday, authorities said.
A statement by the civil affairs department of Yunnan province said 63 people died in Yiliang county and another died in the Zhaoyang district of the city of Zhaotong, which also administers Yiliang.
Two quakes measuring 5.7 and 5.6 on the Richter scale hit a border area near Yiliang county in Yunnan and Weining county in Guizhou province at 11:19 a.m. and 12:16 p.m. Friday, respectively.
The quakes have cut off electricity and triggered landslides that have blocked roads, creating complications for rescuers.
Yunnan's civil affairs department said the quakes destroyed 6,650 houses and damaged 430,000 others. More than 100,000 residents have been evacuated and 100,000 others are in need of relocation.
Yunnan has initiated a level-one emergency response to the quakes. The Red Cross Society of China has dispatched 650 tents and 3,000 quilts to the disaster-hit region.
The Chengdu Military Area Command in southwest China said it has sent 1,300 soldiers equipped with relief materials to join rescue efforts.
Officials in Guizhou said two people were injured and lives of nearly 28,000 people were disrupted in Weining county. Eighteen houses were toppled and more than 10,000 houses were damaged in the quakes.
MINING COMMUNITY DESTROYED
"The hardest part of the rescue will be handling traffic," said Li Fuchun, head of Luozehe township, Yiliang. "Roads are blocked and rescuers have to climb mountains to reach hard-hit villages."
Li said the number of casualties might be high, although it will be impossible to assess until rescuers reach more remote areas.
Xinhua reporters in Luozehe saw large rocks, some as tall as four meters, tumbling down mountain slopes and crushing houses and cars.
A settlement established near a zinc mine in Luozehe was seriously damaged. More than two dozen mining families were forced to evacuate.
"It is scary. My brother was killed by falling rocks. The aftershocks have struck again and again. We are so scared," said miner Peng Zhuwen.
Retired miner Liu Linde, 62, said he was thrown three meters off the road when the quake struck.
"When I returned, the door to my home had collapsed. Cracks were everywhere on the walls," Liu said.
POOR AND POPULOUS AREA
The quake-stricken area is relatively populous, which may result in heavier casualties, noted Huangfu Gang, director of Yunnan's seismological bureau.
The area's population density is estimated to be 205 people per square km, nearly twice the figure for the whole province, Huangfu said.
He said homes and buildings in the relatively poor region were not built strongly enough to resist the destructive power of a violent earthquake.
The mountainous terrain also made the quake more devastating, as landslides were more easily triggered, the expert added.
Zhaotong, with a population of about 5.6 million, is prone to geological disasters. A magnitude-5.6 earthquake in 2003 killed four people and injured 594 in Ludian county. In 2010, rain-triggered landslides left 45 dead or missing in Qiaojia county.