Death Toll From Southwestern China Earthquake Rises Sharply

The death toll in the earthquake that hit China's Yunan province Sunday has risen sharply from early reports.
Posted at 9:23 AM, Aug 04, 2014

The death toll from an earthquake that hit southwestern China Sunday has risen sharply with nearly 400 people now reported dead. (Via Getty Images)

In the first hours after the quake, China's state-run news agency  Xinhua reported the death toll to be around 150, but by the evening that number had more than doubled. 

Accompanying that, the number of homes destroyed has also shot up. Early reports indicated some buildings had toppled, but the newest information says at least 12,000 homes have been destroyed. (Via Al Jazeera)

"Most of the homes in this region are constructed of bricks mud and wood ... Heavy rains and mudslides prevented rescue vehicles from reaching them. Power and phone outages have further complicated efforts." (Via CNN)   

Another factor that's slowing the relief effort, as many outlets have pointed out, is the quake hit in a "remote, mountainous" part of Yunnan province with some of the affected towns only reachable by foot. (Via The New York Times, USA Today, BBC)

According to The Guardian, most of the critically injured victims have been taken to Zhaotong People's Hospital. Health officials say more than 20 medical professionals have been sent from the city of Zhaotong to the epicenter. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the epicenter of the quake —which it measured at a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter scale— is about 18 miles southwest of Zhaotong in Ludian county.

"That area, because the subcontinent keeps pushing up, is always prone to earthquakes, but this magnitude has not happened for the past 12, or 13 years." (Via BBC)

Interestingly, there continue to be discrepancies on the actual magnitude of the quake, with Chinese state media across the board reporting it to be 6.5, compared to that USGS measurement of 6.1— and some wires have split the difference, reporting 6.3 (Via Xinhua, Mashable)

Still, rapidly escalating death tolls are common after major natural disasters, as rescue workers start assessing the damage, and looking for victims. 

For its part, the Chinese government has kept a handle on the information coming out of the area. Most the images from the affected towns depict police and rescue workers helping locals, with little of the reported destruction shown. (Via Getty Images)

It's been more than 6 years since China's deadliest quake —in Sichuan— killed close to 90,000 people.