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September 24, 2017

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Rescuers battle to clear bodies after 400 die in Yunnan quake

LONGTOUSHAN, China -- Rescuers laid out bodies in the streets Monday after at least 398 people were killed by an earthquake in China, leaving the idyllic mountain landscape littered with scenes of devastation and sparking a huge rescue effort.

More than 18,000 rescuers were deployed in the disaster zone in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where nearly 80,000 houses were destroyed and 124,000 more seriously damaged, the official news agency Xinhua said.

In Longtoushan, at the epicenter of the quake, a volunteer gently placed the body of a one-year-old infant next to an eight-year-old, near other small corpses.

Each one was wrapped in dirty blankets and old clothes tied with string to anything resembling a stretcher — a ladder, two branches, or planks of wood — as rain fell from darkened skies.

"There are about 70 to 80 bodies here," one woman shouted helplessly.

"We cannot move them because the roads are all blocked," said a man, as more bodies were recovered from the rubble and placed on the dirty pathway, an AFP reporter saw.

State broadcaster China Central Television showed images of a mountainside dotted with small homes reduced to shattered shells. Nearby, vast swathes of hillside had plunged into a river, blocking its flow and causing the water to rise 30 meters above its usual level, it said.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported Sunday's quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and said it struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (six miles).

The Yunnan province civil affairs office said 398 people had been confirmed killed and 1,801 injured.

A total of 18,000 emergency personnel, including 11,000 police and firefighters, and 7,000 soldiers and armed police had been mobilized, Xinhua said.

Equipment brought to the area included life detection instruments and excavating tools.

"They are also battling the continual downpour that has brought down the temperature in the remote area and made shortages of food and medicine even more pernicious," Xinhua added.

In Ludian county, which includes Longtoushan, Xinhua said its reporters "saw drenched survivors sit along the muddy roads waiting for food and medication. Some half-naked survivors were quivering in the rain."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Yunnan on Monday and because of the road conditions had to walk for "over three miles" to reach the worst-hit village, Xinhua said on a verified Twitter account.

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