Aftershock Hits China; 2 Dead, Hundreds Hurt

China continues recovery efforts after a devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit central China on May 12, 2008, and rendered millions of people homeless.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 26, 2008; Page A11

CHENGDU, China, May 25 -- The strongest aftershock since a May 12 earthquake devastated parts of Sichuan province struck the area Sunday afternoon, killing two people, injuring more than 480 and spreading panic through a region just beginning to move from rescue operations to rebuilding.

The 5.8-magnitude aftershock was centered about 25 miles west of Guangyuan city, 155 miles northeast of the provincial capital of Chengdu, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

An estimated 71,000 homes were destroyed, according to the New China News Agency.

"All the buildings shook violently. Drivers lost control of their cars and were driving in a crazy manner," said An Qiang, manager of a hotel in Guangyuan that was damaged in the initial temblor. "It wasn't as bad as the main earthquake . . . but still, from the bottom of my heart, I feel a kind of panic."

The vibrations were felt in Beijing, 800 miles away, where officials warned that 69 dams in the earthquake region were in danger of collapsing because of damage from the quake and aftershocks.

"If these reservoirs were to overflow, it would be a serious threat to the lives and property of the people downstream, and will influence the supply of water for agriculture and industry," Vice Minister of Water Resources E Jingping told reporters.

About 20,000 people have been evacuated and tens of thousands more may need to be moved because of potential flooding, water resources officials said. Critics say 320 at-risk dams concentrated in the area have already wreaked havoc on the environment and pose an even greater risk now.

Sunday's aftershock, at 4:10 p.m., complicated recovery work as soldiers in nearby Beichuan county prepared to use explosives to blast debris blocking rivers.

A CCTV reporter in Deyang city, just outside of Chengdu, said the aftershock shook army trucks in the streets. Hundreds of people who had already been sleeping outdoors in tents rather than in their apartments sat in the streets, she said.

Also Sunday, state news media said a survivor was pulled from wreckage on Friday, 11 days after the disaster. Xiao Zhihu, 80, who was partially paralyzed before the quake, was found trapped under a pillar in his home in Mianzhu, a state television report said. He managed to survive because his wife was able to get food to him.

More than 62,000 people were killed in the earthquake, according to the government, and thousands remain missing.

The tragedy has prompted Beijing Olympics organizers to cut the controversial Tibetan leg of the torch relay from three days to just one. Officials had vowed not to alter the route in the face of criticism over China's human rights record but stopped the relay for three days last week during a national period of mourning.

Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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