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Dozens dead in southwest China earthquakes

Two earthquakes have hit southwest China, killing dozens and injuring hundreds of people. The shallow, 5.6 magnitude quakes hit within an hour of each other, forcing the evacuation of 200,000 people.

At least 64 people were killed and more than 700 injured on Friday when two earthquakes hit on the border of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces in China's southwest.

Approximately 20,000 houses were destroyed in and around Yiliang county, a remote, mountainous region in Yunnan province.

The quakes struck just before noon local time, hitting Yunnan, as well as Guizhou and Sichuan provinces.

Death toll may rise

China Central Television (CCTV), the country's state broadcaster, said the death toll may rise as rescuers reach villages that are cut off by landslides.

International Red Cross spokesman Francis Markus said that the mountainous terrain would create "logistical challenges" for the rescue operation.

"The areas in both Yunnan and Guizhou are partly inhabited by the Yi ethnic minority and are officially classified among the poorest counties," said Markus.

"Many of the homes are built of timber and mud, which makes them more likely to collapse under the impact of this shallow earthquake," he added.

Relief underway

The government said that by Friday evening, rescue teams made up of 5,600 police and civilians were working in the area.

"The hardest part of the rescue now is traffic," Li Fuchun, head of Weining's Luozehe township, told the official Xinhua news agency. "Roads are blocked and rescuers have to climb the mountains to reach the hard-hit villages."

CCTV reported that Premier Wen Jiabao was on his way to oversee rescue efforts in the area, which lies 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles) south of Beijing.

History of earthquakes

Southwest Chinahas a history of deadly earthquakes. In 2008, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake killed tens of thousands of people when it hit Sichuan Province, destroying countless buildings.

Any quake with an epicenter less than 70 kilometers below the earth's surface is considered shallow. Such quakes can cause significant damage even at low magnitudes.

A 6.3 magnitude quake just 5 kilometers deep hit Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011, killing 182 people.

dr/slk (dpa, Reuters, AFP)