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URGENT Quakes Hit Rural Northern China, Killing 29, Razing 10,000 Homes With AM-SF Quake, Bjt

October 20, 1989

BEIJING (AP) _ A series of at least six earthquakes rumbled across rural north China late Wednesday and early Thursday, destroying more than 10,000 homes, killing at least 29 people and injuring more than 150.

The quakes, measuring from 5.0 up to 6.1 on the Richter scale, hit Shanxi and Hebei provinces, the official China Daily said Friday.

Most of the destruction occurred in Shanxi province, and the daily quoted a local Communist Party official there as saying, ″The problem is serious and the casualties may increase.″

Film footage taken by Shanxi provincial television showed rescue workers using primitive tools to dig through the rubble looking for victims; makeshift clinics set up outside to treat people with broken bones and badly bloodied heads; people in heavy overcoats huddled around bonfires, and children wrapped in blankets sleeping in straw outside their destroyed homes.

Bread and medical supplies were being distributed to the homeless and injured. China Daily said the army sent 1,000 soldiers to join rescue efforts.

The worst quake was centered about 135 miles west of Beijing on the border of Shanxi and Hebei provinces and struck less than 24 hours after a massive earthquake hit the San Francisco area, but State Seismological Bureau officials said there was no evidence the temblors were linked.

Residents of Beijing felt the tremors, but no reports of damage surfaced and the bureau said there was no need to take safety measures in the capital.

The epicenter was near Datong, famous for its Yungang Caves that hold thousands of Buddhist paintings and statues dating to the 5th century. Whether any caves were damaged was not reported. Efforts to reach Datong by telephone failed.

The Seismological Bureau said an initial quake hit at 10:57 p.m. Wednesday (10:57 a.m. EDT) and measured 5.7 on the Richter scale. At least four others registering 5 or above hit in the next six hours, including a quake of 6 on the scale at about 1 a.m. Thursday (1 p.m. EDT Wednesday).

An aftershock measuring 5.1 hit at 6:29 p.m. (6:29 EDT Thursday), the official Xinhua News Agency said. More than 300 lesser aftershocks were recorded.

For many hours, almost no details were available from the government or official media about extent of damage.

China’s prime time national news program gave extensive time on Thursday to Premier Li Peng inspecting a stadium and a continuing campaign against pornography, but failed to mention the killer earthquake that was felt in Beijing.

It takes days for details of many major disasters to be reported, and many, particularly industrial accidents, are still ignored by the official press.

The region affected by the Wednesday-Thursday quakes is a dry, windswept farming area, where wheat and other grains are grown and where most homes are built one-story high of unfired clay bricks, vulnerable to collapse in an strong quake.

Shanxi also is China’s main coal-producing province.

Earthquakes are frequent in China. Last month one hit southwest Sichuan province, injuring 54 people and destroying 4,000 homes. Five earthquakes with magnitudes registering up to 6.7 on the Richter scale hit western Sichuan in June and July, killing 11 people.

China’s worst earthquake in recent history leveled Tangshan in the northeast in 1976, with a magnitude estimated at up to 8.2. The official count listed 240,000 dead, but unofficial estimates put the toll at three times that. That time, it was years before the outside world learned the extent of the catastrophe.

The Richter scale is a measure of ground movement as recorded by seismographs. The open-ended scale is logarithmic, meaning each degree of intensity is 10 times stronger than the last. Thus the 6.9 quake that hit San Francisco would be 10 times stronger than one registering 5.9.

Bureau director Fang Zhangsun told Xinhua transportation and communications in the quake area remained intact and relief work was in progress, but he gave no details.

Xinhua on Thursday devoted five paragraphs to the tremors in its English- language service, two of which were concerned with saying the quake had nothing to do with the one in San Francisco.

The San Francisco quake, by contrast, made the evening news Wednesday night.

Unlike the Soviet Union, which won wide international sympathy by allowing foreign journalists and relief organizations to go to Armenia when an earthquake devastated that region last December, foreigners were barred from going to Yunnan, where an earthquake killed 730 a month earlier.

When reporters asked the Foreign Ministry for permission to cover Thursday’s quakes, they were told to write a formal letter of request.