updated 8/12/2004 5:04:22 PM ET 2004-08-12T21:04:22

Tens of thousands of people left homeless by an earthquake in southwestern China are camping in the open with only minimal shelter from heat and rain, a Red Cross spokesman said Thursday.

About 8,000 tents were delivered to the area in Yunnan province after Tuesday’s quake. That was only enough for about half the 126,000 people whose homes were destroyed, and the rest had to improvise shelters from plastic sheeting, said John Sparrow, a spokesman for the Red Cross office in Beijing.

“The situation in terms of the people affected is worrying. There is a great need to provide people with shelter,” he said.

Four people were killed in the magnitude 5.6 quake and nearly 600 injured, Sparrow said, citing figures provided by the government.

The quake struck amid summer flooding throughout China that has strained emergency services. Those resources could be put under further pressure as eastern China braced for more flooding and landslides from a typhoon that moved ashore late Thursday.

Ready to rumble?“It’s a summer in which this country is being severely stretched,” Sparrow said.

The quake was centered on Ludian county in Yunnan, and was the third to strike the area in less than 12 months.

More than 6,000 houses were flattened, including mud-and-wood dwellings that were damaged by temblors last November, Sparrow said. Earlier reports said 18,556 houses collapsed, but he said that figure appeared to be the total number of rooms, not entire dwellings.

Casualty wards at the No. 1 People’s Hospital in Zhaotong, a city near the quake zone, were filled to capacity, said a woman in the hospital’s administrative office.

“Our doctors are just managing to keep up, but there are so many injured,” said the woman, who wouldn’t give her name. She said army doctors had been sent from Shanghai to help.

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