Death toll from earthquake in China's Yunnan province nears 400

The 6.1 magnitude earthquake also injured almost 2,000 people as rescuers continue to search for survivors

Rescuers dug through crumbled homes Monday looking for survivors of a strong earthquake in southern China's Yunnan province that killed at least 398 people and injured more than 1,800.

About 12,000 homes collapsed in Ludian, a county located around 277 miles northeast of Yunnan's capital, Kunming, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

China said it had dispatched thousands of armed police, soldiers and firefighters to the scene. More than 2,500 troops were dispatched to the region, state news agency Xinhua said. Premier Li Keqiang visited the town Monday, Xinhua said, urging a quick rescue for those missing and trapped by debris.

The magnitude-6.1 quake struck at 4:30 p.m. at a depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Its epicenter was in Longtoushan township, 14 miles southwest of the city of Zhaotong, the Ludian county seat. 

Citing rescuers, state broadcaster CCTV said 1,891 were injured, three were missing and 29,400 had been evacuated. The death toll was expected to rise, once rescuers reached remote communities to assess casualties.

Many of the homes that collapsed in Ludian, which has a population of about 429,000, were old and made of brick, Xinhua said, adding that electricity and telecommunications were cut off in the county.

Pictures posted online by state media showed troops using stretchers to carry people away, and bricks which had fallen off buildings damaging cars. Many people rushed out of buildings onto the street after the quake hit, electricity supplies were cut and at least one school collapsed, Xinhua reported.

Ma Liya, a resident of Zhaotong, told Xinhua that the streets there were like a "battlefield after bombardment." She added that her neighbor's house, a new two-story building, had toppled, and said the quake was far worse than one that struck the area in 2012 and killed 81 people.

"The aftermath is much, much worse than what happened after the quake two years ago," Ma said. "I have never felt such strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins."

Most of the deaths — at least 357 — were in Zhaotong City, according to Xinhua.

The government is sending 2,000 tents, 3,000 folding beds, 3,000 quilts and 3,000 coats to the disaster zone, the report said. Ludian is home to some 265,900 people, Xinhua added.

The Red Cross Society of China allocated quilts, jackets and tents for those made homeless by the quake, while Red Cross branches in Hong Kong, Macau and neighboring Sichuan province also sent relief supplies.

The mountainous region where the quake occurred is largely agricultural, with farming and mining the top industries, and is prone to earthquakes.

A 2008 quake in Sichuan killed at least 70,000 people, at least 5,000 of them children because poorly built schools collapsed. In the aftermath, critics accused the government of constructing some infrastructure in violation of building codes, exacerbating the damage.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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