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Subject: Western China Quake Kills at Least 242

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Date Posted: February 24, 2003 4:53:08 EDT

A powerful earthquake toppled houses and schools in China's remote western region of Xinjiang on Monday, killing at least 242 people and injuring more than 1,000 others, officials and state media said.

The 6.8 magnitude quake struck Bachu County on the western edge of Xinjiang, near China's mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan, at 10:03 a.m. local time, the government said. The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., put the quake's magnitude at 6.3.

At least 242 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured, the official Xinhua News Agency said, without giving details. It said the quake was the most serious to strike Xinjiang since 1949, when the communist government was founded.

More than 1,000 houses and school buildings collapsed in one village in Bachu County, where the earthquake was centered, Xinhua reported. It said tremors were felt in Kashgar, the biggest city in the area, though it didn't give details of any damage there.

The area is about 1,750 miles west of Beijing and its inhabitants predominantly Turkic-speaking Muslims.

Xinjiang suffers frequent earthquakes, especially its far west, which covers the foothills of Central Asia's soaring Pamir and Tianshan mountains. But they usually cause few injuries and little property damage because it is so sparsely populated.

In Bachu County, at least 10 students died when their junior high school collapsed in the county's most badly damaged town, Chongku Qiake, said an official reached by phone at the county government offices. He gave his name as Maimai Qiming, indicating he is a member of one of the region's Muslim ethnic groups.

Most of the dead were in collapsed houses where the quake caught them eating breakfast, said an officer reached by telephone at the Bachu County police station. He gave identified himself as Habuduani, another Muslim name.

The quake also shook neighboring Jiashi County, but less damage was reported there, said Zhang Yong, director of disaster prevention for the Xinjiang Seismological bureau in the region's capital, Urumqi.

He said buildings in Bachu were older and flimsier, while Jiashi suffered a series of severe quakes in the late 1990s and damaged houses and shops were rebuilt using more solid construction.

A quake of magnitude 5.4 shook Jiashi on Jan. 5, but no deaths or injuries were reported.

In Kyrgyzstan, no injuries or damage were reported, said Rustam Imanaliev, duty officer at the Kyrgyz Ecology and Emergency Situations Ministry. He said the quake was measured at magnitude 3 in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh region.

On Dec. 15, a quake of magnitude 5.9 in China's Gansu region, which borders Xinjiang to the east, killed two people and damaged thousands of houses, according to the government.

On Dec. 25, a magnitude 5.7 quake struck another part of western Xinjiang near the Afghan border. Some buildings were damaged but no injuries or deaths reported.

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