China quake toll nears 600 as volunteers told to stay away

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The death toll from an earthquake that devastated a remote region of China jumped to nearly 600 people Wednesday, authorities said, as volunteer rescuers were warned away.

Rescue efforts in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where the 6.1-magnitude quake struck Sunday, were heavily hampered by traffic delays and landslides blocking roads.

At least 589 people had been confirmed killed as of Wednesday morning, China’s ministry of civil affairs said on its website, marking a sharp increase in the death toll.

The ministry added that 2,401 people were injured and 230,000 had been evacuated, while more than 80,000 homes had fully or partially collapsed.

No explanation was given for the sudden increase from a toll of 410 given on Tuesday, though rescuers have steadily been pulling corpses from the wreckage.

“This has been terrible, I have lost colleagues, friends and witnessed so much tragedy,”doctor Shang Gangzheng tearfully told AFP in Longtoushan, at the epicentre of the quake.

Around 150 blue tents have been set up in the township to shelter survivors, with litter strewn across the site and a strong smell of urine emanating from a tiny creek at the back.

Distraught mothers sought to comfort each other for the deaths of their children. “I lost my seven-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son in the earthquake. I am not sure if I can ever have a real home again without my children,” said Yan Anqiao, 30, staring at the floor.

The girl and boy were “the world, everything to me,” said the now childless mother.

Sheng Taimei had gone out while her 11-year-old daughter, who had stayed at home to do housework, was killed. “She was so helpful to me. She was very warm, full of emotion. I am lost without her,” she said.

Search efforts in Longtoushan were being concentrated in a 600-metre (0.4-mile) swathe of hillside in the township’s central urban area.

Residents in the area told AFP that school dormitories had collapsed in the quake, echoing a 2008 disaster in Sichuan which killed more than 80,000 people, thousands of them children who died as their cheaply built schools crumbled.

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