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Originally published Monday, May 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Powerful aftershock hits China

A powerful aftershock hit central China on Sunday, toppling thousands of buildings, killing six people and injuring more than 500 others...

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BEIJING — A powerful aftershock hit central China on Sunday, toppling thousands of buildings, killing six people and injuring more than 500 others.

A government spokesman in Qingchuan County said medical teams were responding to calls from six townships, the state news agency, Xinhua, reported.

The new tremor, which the U.S. Geological Survey said measured a magnitude 6.0, killed two people in Sichuan province and injured more than 480 others, 41 seriously, Xinhua said. The aftershock also killed four people and injured 20 others seriously in neighboring Shaanxi province.

Some 71,000 homes that had survived the original quake were leveled, and an additional 200,000 were in danger of collapse from the aftershock.

It came two weeks after the disastrous May 12 earthquake, which has left up to 5 million people homeless.

Beijing urgently appealed for international aid, including tents and other supplies to house, feed and clothe residents.

Relief agencies said China's needs were staggering, and officials worried the international community would not have nearly enough tents to offer.

On Sunday, the death toll from the May 12 quake was raised to 62,664 people, with more than 350,000 injured and about 23,775 still missing.

Concerns remain about severely damaged dams, chemical plants and other infrastructure, and there have been warnings that artificial lakes created by the earthquake could breach their banks and that crowding in refugee camps could spread disease.

"The needs here are tremendous," said Nicolas Tocque, an emergency-logistics coordinator working in Sichuan for Doctors Without Borders, the international-aid agency. "There are people with no place to go."

Beijing has pledged more than $9 billion for the reconstruction effort and says it has received an additional $4 billion in donations of money, food and other supplies from around the world.

But the sheer number of refugees has created daunting challenges.

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"We had a meeting on Friday and discussed the need for 3.3 million tents," said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva. "I'm not even sure the international community has that many tents."

U.N. officials also say an environmental team is on emergency standby ready to go to China if the government approves, to assess possible dangers there.

A senior official in Beijing warned that 69 dams in the earthquake-stricken region could present "dangerous situations" and risked some danger of collapsing. To reduce risks, many reservoirs in the region have been drained to ease pressure on the dams.

State media reported that 1,600 soldiers arrived at one of the "quake lakes," in Tangjiashan, with orders to blast away the landslide behind which water had been rising for days. Helicopters have not been able to land troops in the region because of bad weather.

The water in the Tangjiashan quake lake, two miles upstream from devastated Beichuan County, rose by about 6 feet Saturday, and if its barrier were breached, a flood could threaten the lives of 70,000 people downstream, state media said.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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