A series of earthquakes collapsed houses and triggered landslides in mountainous southwestern China on Friday, killing at least 43 people and the toll was expected to rise.
The quakes were of moderate strength, ranging from a magnitude of 4.8 to 5.6, but were shallow, which often causes more damage. The areas of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces where the quakes hit are rural and agricultural, and buildings in such areas are often poorly constructed.
Most of the deaths were in the worst-hit county of Yiliang in Yunnan, said Zhang Junwei, spokesman from the Yunnan seismological bureau. Zhang said another 150 people were hurt. Yiliang's population is about half a million.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the quakes destroyed or damaged 20,000 homes. In 2008, a severe earthquake in Sichuan province, just north of Yunnan, killed nearly 90,000 people, with many of the deaths blamed on poorly built buildings, including schools.
A statement on the website of the Yunnan seismological bureau said more than 100,000 people had been evacuated in Yunnan. Xinhua said a total of 700,000 people in Yiliang and neighboring Daguan county had their lives disrupted by the quakes. It said earthquakes are common in the area.
A government official in Jiaokui, a town in Yiliang, said a large number of houses had collapsed. "The casualty number is still being compiled. I don't know what was like for the other towns, but my town got hit badly," he said. Like many Chinese officials he refused to give his name.
Mobile phone services were down and regular phone lines disrupted. Phones were cut off to clinics in four villages in Qiaoshan, another town in Yiliang. Nerves were also on edge in the area as China's Earthquake Administration had recorded more than 60 earthquakes and aftershocks since the initial jolts at about 0300 GMT.
State-run China Central Television showed several hundred people crowded into a school athletic field in Yiliang's county seat - a sizeable town spread in a mountain valley along a river. A black, pillar-shaped cloud of dust rose over the horizon, apparently from a landslide in a nearby valley.
Xinhua said the provincial government had sent work teams to the quake-hit areas and the civil affairs department was shipping thousands of tents, blankets and coats to the areas.
It said that so far no casualties had been reported in Guizhou, but that homes had been damaged or destroyed there. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 5.6 quake hit at a depth of 9.8 kilometers (6.1 miles). Many of the aftershocks were shallow as well.
By comparison, the 7.6-magnitude quake that struck Costa Rica this week was 25 miles (41 kilometers) below the surface, and combined with strict building codes, that kept damage and deaths to a minimum.