Remoteness of region hampers China quake effort

Rescue workers search for survivors amid the remains of collapsed buildings at the epicenter of Sunday's earthquake that struck the town of Longtoushan. Photo / AP
Rescue workers search for survivors amid the remains of collapsed buildings at the epicenter of Sunday's earthquake that struck the town of Longtoushan. Photo / AP

As he stood over the bodies of his daughter and four-year-old grandson wrapped in mouldy blankets alongside about 150 other corpses, Huo Yicai lamented the carnage wrought by a devastating Chinese earthquake.

"What am I going to do with my grandson?" he said tearfully, as a disturbing smell emanated from the endless bundles of cloth lining the concrete road.

The two were among around 400 people who perished when Sunday's quake struck.

The Huo family, previously seven strong, live in the once picturesque village of Longtoushan in the mountains of Yunnan province -- the epicentre of the magnitude 6.1 tremor.

The once peaceful township has been transformed into a pile of debris, with the survivors sleeping in makeshift tents amid a plague of flies.

"My house collapsed, my daughter-in-law was stuck inside and didn't make it," a woman screamed from inside one of the tents, overcome by tears.

The devastation appears to have affected every building in the township, while areas only a few short kilometres away remained largely untouched by the tremor.

More than 50,000 people live in Longtoushan, whose two-storey houses are often -- like many in rural China -- grand in size but poor in build, parts of them crumbling into dust when the earthquake struck.

Bundles of corn cobs were scattered among the rubble, while pigs and other animals ate in the ruins of houses that seemed on the brink of toppling over.

But the most chilling scene was the scores of bodies -- many with only rotting blankets for a shroud -- lying on the streets at the entrance of the village, some only the size of small potato sacks.

The remote location of many of the houses destroyed by Sunday's quake has left emergency personnel struggling to reach casualties, alive or dead.

Even so, loved ones and neighbours brought the victims to the edge of the township in the hope they can be taken away to a more respectful place by authorities.

They carried the bodies with makeshift stretchers, made from metal poles, ladders, branches, or planks of wood.

Some were angered by the corpses being left on the street.

"You should see, you should see all of them," a man said, as he lifted up a plastic sheet, revealing a dozen bodies it had been protecting from the rain.

One of them, a child aged around seven, lay half exposed, the blanket tied around the body flopping open. Another was a 73-year-old woman.

"We have all ages here," said a woman nearby. "The earthquake has made no exceptions with its victims."

- AFP

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