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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Quake Registering 6.8 Kills Hundreds in China

BEIJING -- A powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake toppled houses and schools in China's remote western region of Xinjiang on Monday, killing at least 257 people and injuring more than 1,000 others, officials and state media said.

Most victims died when their farmhouses collapsed as they ate breakfast, said a police officer reached by telephone in Bachu County, where the quake was centered.

"The dead included the old and the young, even some babies," said a government official who gave his name as Mimati. "Survivors and injured people were digging in the debris around their collapsed houses with bleeding hands, calling the names of missing relatives."

He said he had seen battered bodies of adults and children pulled from the rubble, some missing heads or legs.

At least 10 students died when their junior high school collapsed in the county's most badly damaged town, Chongku Qiake, government official Maimai Qiming said.

Most of the houses in the town were damaged and 90 percent of its 30,000 people would have to sleep outdoors, though the town lacked enough tents or blankets, said a county government official who only gave his name as Wu.

Survivors will be forced to spend the night outdoors in -10 degrees Celsius weather, officials said.

A primary school in the town also collapsed, killing two students, Wu said.

Some heavy equipment had arrived in the isolated area hours after the quake struck, but most rescuers were still working by hand, he said.

More than 1,000 houses and school buildings collapsed in one village in Bachu, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

It also said tremors were felt in Kashgar, the most populous city in the area, though it did not give details of any damage there.

The earthquake hit the area on the western edge of Xinjiang, near China's mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan, at 10:03 a.m., the government said.

China's Cabinet authorized the release of emergency funds, state television reported.

It said Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao and other senior leaders contacted local officials, ordering them to ensure that survivors had adequate water, food and shelter.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was visiting Beijing, said at a news conference, "I send my sympathy and condolences to the families of those who have been lost in this tragedy."

President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences.

Reporting on the death toll, Xinhua reported that the quake was the most severe to hit Xinjiang since the start of communist rule in 1949.

Earthquakes are common in Xinjiang, especially in its west, which covers the eastern foothills of the soaring Pamir and Tianshan mountains of Central Asia. But they usually cause few injuries and little property damage because the area is so sparsely populated. The area is about 2,900 kilometers west of Beijing and its inhabitants are predominantly Turkic-speaking Muslims.

On Jan. 5, a quake of magnitude 5.4 struck Jiashi County, but no deaths or injuries were reported. On Dec. 25, a quake of magnitude 5.7 struck another part of western Xinjiang. Some buildings were damaged.