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Death toll at 89 after central Chinese earthquake; thousands of homes lost

A man gives water to an injured woman after an earthquake hit Minxian county in China's Gansu province on Monday. China Daily via Reuters

The death toll has risen to 89, with more than 700 people injured and five others still missing, in the wake of a major earthquake in central China, state media said Tuesday.

The quake hit in Gansu province about 8 miles east of Chabu at 7:45 a.m. Monday Beijing time (7:45 p.m. ET Sunday), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Although Chinese authorities described it as a 6.6-magnitude quake, the USGS recorded it at magnitude 5.9. It said the quake caused severe shaking in a rural region where the infrastructure isn't seismically resistant.

Most of the casualties were in Minxian county, where 87 people were killed and 515 were injured, 60 of them seriously, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said. The five missing people were also from Minxiang, it said.

Gansu authorities said at a news conference Monday night in Lanzhou, the provincial capital, that 422 aftershocks were recorded in the following hours. More than 1,200 homes were destroyed, and 21,000 others were heavily damaged, they said,

Thousands of police, firefighters, local militiamen and government officials poured into the region to help with rescue efforts, Xinhua said.

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Relief efforts have been severely hampered by days of heavy rain that have caused flash floods leading to landslides, the Central Meteorological Administration said. One of them, in the Meichuan Township village of Yongguang, buried 12 residents, the local government said.

Chu Xiaoyi, 20, said the landslide destroyed his house, according to Xinhua. He said he and his family narrowly escaped by holding on to a utility pole.

"We were sleeping when it happened, so we ran out almost naked," the news agency quoted him as saying. "Now we have nothing left, and even our clothes are borrowed from neighbors."

In the village of Yongxing, "nearly half of the hillside collapsed," burying much of the town, Lyu Ziqiang, a spokesman for the Lanzhou Military Command, told the Beijing-based China Daily newspaper

"The village had had continuous rain in past days, making the soil very swampy, so the quake caused the hillside to collapse easily," Lyu said. Water and electricity in the village were still cut off, he said.

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Xinhua said the quake was felt in the neighboring cities of Dingxi, Longnan and Tianshui, as well as Lanzhou, more than 100 miles away. About 19,000 people live in the area that was subject to the strongest shaking, it said.

The quake was followed an hour and a half later by a 5.6-magnitude aftershock at about the same depth, the USGS reported.

Gansu abuts Sichuan province, where a 6.6-magnitude earthquake in April killed 164 people and injured more than 6,700 others. It was China's worst quake in three years.