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Strong earthquake hits China, 71 dead, 2,200 injured

A strong 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit a remote, mostly rural and mountainous area of southwestern China's Sichuan province on Saturday, killing at least 71 people and injuring about 2,200 close to where a big quake killed almost 70,000 people in 2008. The earthquake occurred at 8.02 a.m. (0002 GMT) in Lushan county near Ya'an city and the epicentre had a depth of 12 km (7.5 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake was felt by residents in neighbouring provinces and in the provincial capital of Chengdu, causing many people to rush out of buildings, according to accounts on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging service. The official Xinhua news agency said 71 people had been confirmed dead with more than 2,200 injured, 147 of them seriously. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang said all efforts must be put into rescuing victims to limit the death toll. Li was on his way to Ya'an, state media said. "The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours since the quake's occurrence, the golden time for saving lives," Xinhua quoted Li as saying.
 
Xinhua said 6,000 troops were heading to the area to help with rescue efforts. State television CCTV said only emergency vehicles were being allowed into Ya'an, though Chengdu airport had reopened.
 
Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan, where water and electricity were cut off. Pictures on Chinese news sites showed toppled buildings and people in bloodied bandages being treated in tents outside the hospital, which appeared only lightly damaged.
 
Rescuers in Lushan had pulled 32 survivors out of rubble, Xinhua said. In villages closest to the epicentre, almost all low rise houses and buildings had collapsed, according to footage broadcast on state television.
 
"We are very busy right now, there are about eight or nine injured people, the doctors are handling the cases," said a doctor at a Ya'an hospital who gave her family name as Liu.
 
The hospital was seeing head and leg injuries, she added.

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