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June 28, 2017

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Toll stands at 81 as search for survivors of quake nears end

YILIANG, China--Rescuers searching for survivors from earthquakes in China that killed at least 81 people were Sunday striving to reach the final isolated pockets after combing more than 90 percent of the remote area.

China National Radio reported that search and rescue teams were close to completing their sweep of the mountainous region after two 5.6-magnitude quakes rocked southwestern Guizhou and Yunan provinces on Friday.

The quakes also injured at least 820 people and displaced 201,000 in the resource-rich but impoverished region.

As rescue efforts continued, a steady stream of ambulances offloaded the bloodstained injured at a hospital in Yiliang, the county worst hit by the quakes, which demolished more than 7,000 homes.

Officials at the crowded hospital set up about 20 tents on its grounds to ensure there was enough space to deal with the influx but the blazing midday sun ensured there was no comfort for patients.

Three-year-old Yang Zimen, who was rushed to hospital with a broken collar bone after she was injured in the quake, cried in agony.

"She is still terrified. We were all scared during the earthquake, but I really worry for how she will recover from this," said her mother, comforting her child as nurses patted her brow with cold water.

Farm worker Mu Xianchun, who lived in Yiliang's Maoping village, escaped unhurt but faces a bleak future after what little she had was destroyed.

"All my freshly harvested sweetcorn has gone. And all of my farming tools. This is my whole life and I have no future now," she told AFP, standing outside a tent in the grounds of a local primary school that is now her home.

"I am terrified of going into buildings now. We all are," said Mu, who returned home after spending a morning tending to her crops to discover concrete debris where her tiny house once stood.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Saturday urged rescue workers to redouble their efforts in a visit to Yiliang after reports said rockslides blocked roads, obstructing rescue attempts.

Stones were still falling down from cliffs on Sunday, causing alarm among aid workers and soldiers drafted in for the rescue effort, who are on the alert for signs of further landslides.

Footage on state broadcaster CCTV showed trucks carrying tents to provide shelter for those evacuated from their homes, which overstretched hospitals have been using the tents as makeshift wards.

Funerals had already been held for dozens of people who died in the quakes, a Yiliang government official told AFP, saying that more burials would be held on Sunday.

Amid fears of disease outbreaks after thousands of cattle were killed, authorities have dispatched several hundred epidemic prevention workers to the area.

Rainstorms were expected later Sunday, which could further hamper rescue work by causing mudslides.

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