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Death toll from China quake rises

Chinese media say the death toll from Friday's earthquakes in the southwest of the country has climbed to at least 80 people. Efforts to assess the scale of the disaster are being impeded by poor infrastructure.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the back-to-back earthquakes on Friday also damaged tens of thousands of buildings.

Xinhua also reported that a lack of infrastructure and telecommunications was making it difficult to gather information in the remote mountainous region on the border of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, and that the death toll could rise further as news trickles out of cut-off areas.

Earlier reports said 67 people were killed and 731 injured in the two 5.6-magnitude quakes. Xinhua did not update the number of injured in its latest report.

Most of the victims were from Yiliang county in Yunnan province, near the epicenter. Xinhua reported that 740,000 people had been affected in Yunnan province, with Yunnan's civil affairs department quoted as estimating damage at 3.5 billion yuan (431 million euros, $552 million).

Officials in neighboring Guizhou sad the lives of nearly 28,000 people were disrupted in Weining county on the border to Yunnan.

Quake-prone region

Xinhua said Premier Wen Jiabao was headed to the quake zone.

Television footage showed rubble-strewn roads, abandoned cars and smoke rising from buildings.

The US Geological Survey said the first quake hit at 11:19 a.m. (03:19 GMT) and the second 45 minutes later. Both were at a depth of about 10 kilometers (six miles), and are thus considered shallow.

Shallow earthquakes with an epicenter less than 70 kilometers beneath the surface can cause significant damage, even at lower magnitudes.

Southwest China is prone to earthquakes. In 2008, about 87,600 people were killed by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province.

tj/pfd (Reuters, AFP)