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Ten dead and more injured in central Tibet earthquake

October 9, 2008

ICT Report
October 8, 2008

A major earthquake measuring 6.6. on the Richter scale struck
Damshung (Chinese: Dangxiong) county in central Tibet on Tuesday
(October 7), killing at least 10 people and injuring many more inside
collapsed buildings.

Lhasa was later affected by after-shocks, and many people left their
houses to gather in a large crowd outside the Jokhang temple. Initial
bulletins from China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported that at
least 30 people had been killed, but that figure was attributed to
'unauthoritative sources' and later scaled down. Further reports
yesterday state there are thought to be no more people trapped under
rubble, and that no further fatalities are expected.

Since the crackdown due to protests in Lhasa and beyond began in
March, it has become extremely difficult for non-governmental
organizations to function in the Tibet Autonomous Region, meaning
that immediate assistance from these organizations was not possible.

One report from the region said most of the dead and injured in the
earthquake, which struck at 4:30 in the afternoon local time on
October 7, were women, children and the elderly who had been working
indoors when the quake struck, while men had mostly been gathering
winter fodder for livestock. Another report said Buddhist lamas are
traveling to the scene to conduct prayer services for those who had died.

The Dalai Lama issued a statement from Dharamsala yesterday, saying:
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and property as a result of
the earthquake that struck Damshung county and neighboring areas west
of Lhasa on Monday. Our prayers go out to those who have lost their
lives in this tragedy and offer condolences to their families and
those affected by this natural disaster." The Dalai Lama also said in
his statement, "I am exploring avenues to extend assistance as a
token of my deep concern and solidarity with the people devastated by
these earthquakes."

A tremor shook Lhasa for around 30 seconds afterwards. Schools were
closed, and frightened residents gathered at the Jokhang temple. A
Tibetan source said: "Since March, not many people have been seen on
the streets of Lhasa due to the crackdown. So it was unusual to have
such a large gathering of people. The authorities were quite nervous
about the security implications even despite the earthquake."

The initial quake in Damshung, around 50 miles north of Lhasa, was
followed 15 minutes later by a smaller one to the west of Lhasa,
according to the US Geological Survey. A large aftershock measuring
5.2 on the Richter scale hit Damshung at 8:10 of the same evening
measuring, one of a total 15 aftershocks so far.

According to official reports People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops
stationed in Lhasa are leading rescue efforts, as well as hundreds of
disaster relief workers once a road to the village had been repaired,
providing food, water, tents and sanitation for the victims.

Official accounts from the village at the epicenter of the
earthquake, Yangyi village, recount how around 170 buildings
collapsed in the first earthquake at 4:30, killing nine people and
seriously injuring 11 more, while a further 19 needed treatment for
minor injuries.

Another fatality was reported in Nagarze (Ch: Liangkaze) county in
Lhokha (Ch: Shannan) prefecture, when a teenager was killed and 15
other students injured as they panicked while trying to evacuate
their school during the earthquake.

One of the most devastating features of the huge earthquake that
struck Sichuan province on May 12 of this year, killing 79,000
people, was that many school buildings collapsed instantly, killing
and injuring thousands of children. The school buildings had been
poorly constructed with inferior materials as a result of
under-funding and corruption; one official report on the Damshung
earthquake stated: "Tibet's regional government decided Monday night
to close all schools in Lhasa on Tuesday due to safety concerns."

The official media also reported that the earthquake did not affect
the running of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, which passes through
Damshung county. The railway was engineered to withstand, as far as
possible, seasonal movements in the ground caused by the freezing and
thawing of the soil, as well as a certain degree of seismic activity.
However, leading scientists have warned that global warming may
render the railway so unstable as to be too dangerous to use within
10 years. In addition, much of the route of the railway passes
through areas prone to significant seismic activity. The Kunlun
Mountain range which the railway crosses to the north of Damshung
county was struck by an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale
in 2001, five years before the railway was completed. (See ICT
report, 'Tracking the Steel Dragon',
http://www.savetibet.org/news/newsitem.php?id=1204).

This report can be found online at
http://savetibet.org/news/newsitem.php?id=1372

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Communications Director, ICT
Tel: +44 7947 138612
email: press@savetibet.org
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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