Strong quake in western China

China EarthquakeA series of strong earthquakes struck China’s western Qinghai province Wednesday, toppling houses, killing at least 67 people and burying many others in a mountainous rural area, officials and state media said.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported on its Web site that a magnitude 6.9 temblor struck an area in southern Qinghai, near Tibet, on Wednesday morning and was followed by three quakes in the same area.

The main quake sent residents fleeing as it toppled houses made of mud and wood, said Karsum Nyima, the Yushu county television station’s deputy head of news, speaking by phone with broadcaster CCTV.

The quake hit the county of Yushu, a Tibetan area in Qinghai’s south, the official Xinhua News Agency cited the China Earthquake Networks Center as saying. The Chinese center measured the quake’s magnitude at 7.1. A local government Web site put the county’s population in 2005 at 89,300, a community of mostly herders and farmers.

The China Earthquake Administration announced the initial death toll in a brief statement on its Web site. Rescue efforts were hindered by telecommunications problems, with phone lines down, the notice said.

State television showed footage of paramilitary police using shovels to dig around a house with a collapsed wooden roof. A local military official, Shi Huajie, told state broadcaster CCTV rescuers were working with limited equipment.

Ten minutes later, the area was hit by a magnitude 5.3 quake, which was followed after two minutes by a temblor measuring 5.2, according to the U.S. agency. Both the subsequent earthquakes were measured at a depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers). Another quake, measuring 5.8, was recorded at 9:25 a.m.

In 2008, a magnitude-7.9 quake in Sichuan province left almost 90,000 people dead or missing.