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Three Hundred Confirmed Dead In Sakhalin Quake

May 29, 1995

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, Russia (AP) _ Guided by moans piercing through the rubble of shoddily built high-rises, rescue teams fought on Monday to save some of the 3,000 people trapped by a major earthquake in Russia’s Far East.

Three hundred people were confirmed killed in the earthquake, which flattened a town on Sakhalin Island’s northern coast and reportedly ruptured an oil pipeline. Another 300 people were hospitalized, Viktor Gurevich, vice governor of the Sakhalin region, told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Moans could be heard from under the debris in Neftegorsk, which bore the brunt of the magnitude 7.5 quake that belted the island early Sunday while most residents slept, rescue workers said.

The quake was one of the largest in Russia’s history, and the casualty toll was expected to rise as rescuers combed the remote Pacific island site.

At least 3,000 people were trapped under their brick apartment buildings, but rescue teams managed to save hundreds by early Monday, ITAR-Tass reported.

The quake, which struck the large Pacific island at 1:03 a.m. Sunday local time (9:03 a.m. Saturday), was centered just offshore near its thinly populated northern tip.

Neftegorsk, a town of 3,500 some 40 miles northwest of the epicenter, was destroyed. Other villages were damaged.

Raisa Mikhailova, municipal spokeswoman for the regional center of Okha, said 13 five-story houses made of prefabricated blocks collapsed in Neftegorsk.

The injured were being brought from Neftegorsk to hospitals in Okha and Khabarovsk.

``The dead are being collected on the site in Neftegorsk. We don’t know the exact number,″ Mikhailova said by telephone.

Russia’s Independent Television said many of the victims in Neftegorsk lived in brick apartment buildings that were constructed in the 1960s and simply crumbled during the quake.

Soviet building practices were notoriously shoddy, and poor construction was one of the reasons for the large number of victims in the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, which claimed at least 25,000 lives.

In Okha, a town of 35,000 located 55 miles north of Neftegorsk, balconies fell from two five-story buildings and many houses had walls crack and furniture broken. Aftershocks rocked the region throughout the day Sunday.

The initial quake also ruptured an oil pipeline running north from Neftegorsk _ which translates as ``oil town″ _ and destroyed oil wells, spilling an unknown amount.

A special plane left Moscow on Sunday with a rescue team and equipment aboard. Camps were set up for those evacuated from the quake area and teams of medics and rescue workers were sent to the area, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Russian news reports said more than 500 rescue workers and dozens of helicopters and airplanes participated in the rescue effort, with more teams preparing to go to the area.

Rescue work reportedly was hindered by heavy fog.

Sakhalin Island, some 4,000 miles and eight time zones east of Moscow, is rich in natural resources _ oil, gas, coal, timber and fish. Home to 750,000 people, it was closed to foreigners for decades because of its sensitive military bases.

Soviet authorities wary of possible spying ordered a fighter jet to shoot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 when it strayed over the region on Sept. 1, 1983. All 269 people aboard, including 61 Americans, were killed. The jet fell into the Sea of Okhotsk off the island’s southwestern coast.

A quake measuring magnitude 7 or greater is capable of widespread, heavy damage.

Two other major tremors have shaken the region in the past eight months.

On Oct. 4, an 8.2 quake struck Russia’s disputed Kuril Islands about 600 miles southeast of Sunday’s epicenter, killing at least 10 people.

On Jan. 17, a 7.2 quake demolished Kobe, Japan, to the south, killing 5,500 people.

Japan offered Sunday to send aid to the Sakhalin quake victims.

President Boris Yeltsin conveyed his condolences to those affected by the earthquake, saying he was greatly saddened by the news and promising to take all possible measures to help.

South Korea announced on Monday it would provide $1 million in emergency aid for the quake victims. The Foreign Ministry is chartering a plane to ship medicine, food, blankets and other relief supplies to the stricken area as soon as possible, officials said in Seoul.

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