Injured villagers receive medical treatment at an evacuation center on Sunday after a series of earthquakes hit Yiliang county, Yunnan Province on Friday. The death toll has risen to 81 as of Sunday. Photo: AFP
Officials from the local seismological authority in Yunnan Province said Sunday massive losses caused by recent earthquakes were mainly due to the special topography of the area, and rejected speculation that it should be attributed to human error such as jerry-built buildings.
The death toll in a series of earthquakes in Yiliang county, Zhaotong, in Southwest China's Yunnan, increased to 81 on Saturday after a 2-year-old boy failed to survive serious injuries received in a 3.7-magnitude aftershock on Saturday, according to the Zhaotong city government.
Another 821 people were injured in the quakes, after the first one of 5.6 magnitude hit an area near Yiliang at 11:19 am on Friday, and more than 200,000 people have been relocated, said a press release sent to the Global Times Sunday.
The disaster caused about 4 billion yuan ($631 million) in direct losses.
Disaster-relief efforts intensified with more rescue forces put in place and more volunteers joining the drive, but the complicated topography and upcoming bad weather conditions are expected to hamper rescue work.
Zhang Junwei, an official with the Yunnan provincial seismological bureau, told the Global Times on Sunday that the rescue work was greatly obstructed by the narrow roads and frequent aftershocks.
"After the landslide, many rescue trucks were blocked on the roadside," Zhang said. "Many rescue facilities and wounded can only be carried by people to pass these roads."
A total of 279 aftershocks occurred after the two main earthquakes, posing a threat to rescuers, Zhang added.
Torrential rain predicted to occur in the coming days might increase the difficulties for the rescue work.
Zhang also explained that the huge damage done by the earthquake was mainly due to the special topography in the area, which is located in river valleys near high mountains, and secondary damage caused by landslides is very likely to occur.
He added that houses in these areas were not strong enough to resist the impact of earthquakes, and the population density, about 205 people per square kilometer and almost two times the average density of the province, was also one of the causes.
Some people are blaming the devastation on human factors including poorly built school buildings.
Deng Naigong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, told the Global Times that the relatively shallow earthquake focus also contributed to the great damage.
An earthquake at 10 meters deep is four times stronger in destructive power than an earthquake 20 meters deep, according to Deng.
He added that China is facing difficulties in constructing earthquake-proof houses across the country due to the large size and economic reasons.