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JISHOU, HUNAN — Here is an update to the earthquake situation in western China.

The death toll has climbed to 617, including at least 56 school children who were at school when the early morning quake hit. Perhaps 9,000 people or more are injured, some seriously. About 85 percent of the buildings have been flattened.

Twenty miles from the epicenter, Jiegu township in Qinghai Province is in a remote, mountainous region, altitude 13,000 feet. With no shelter, most survivors had to sleep outside in below-freezing temperatures last night with little more than blankets for protection.

The nearest airport, in Xining, is 12 hours away on rugged, winding roads. Chinese troops are already on the way with heavy lifting equipment and supplies.

Most of the homes in Jiegu are built from mud and wood, but schools are typically made from concrete block. Media reports say that 70 percent of the schools have collapsed. Students were already in school, since many are boarders.

The big quake was preceded by a smaller one at 5:39 am, which woke up teachers and students at one school in time to escape before the big one destroyed their school.

There are 700 troops on the ground now. Another 5,000 are on the way. Additionally, about 500 monks from Sichuan have come with bottled water, instant noodles and dried food. The government is warning private citizens to stay away, because of the region’s high altitude and bitterly cold temperatures.

More coverage is at the China Daily website.

Coincidentally, the day before the quake, I had just read an article saying that the number of earthquakes this year is not unusual. What is unusual, and tragic, is that most of the quakes this year have hit heavily populated areas. About 70,000 people live in Yushu county, the site of the quake.

China is still suffering from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan, which killed thousands of people and injured about 100,000. Entire cities were leveled and are still being rebuilt. While the USA and other countries quickly responded with offers of aid at the time, some Chinese are upset that the USA seemed to respond more quickly and more generously to this year’s earthquake in Haiti. I am not sure if the Red Cross and other agencies are set up for donations yet, but you could all help smooth international relations if you could send a little money to benefit the people of Qinghai.