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China quake death toll more than doubles to 54, hundreds hurt

By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING (Reuters) - The death toll from a 6.6 magnitude earthquake in China's western Gansu province on Monday more than doubled to 54 people, the municipal government said, with hundreds injured as many homes in affected areas collapsed.

The quake hit Minxian and Zhangxian counties, about 170 km (105 miles) southeast of the provincial capital of Lanzhou, at 7.45 on Monday morning (7.45 p.m. ET Sunday), the official Xinhua news agency said.

It put the number of people seriously injured at 296. Earlier reports by the official Xinhua news agency said 22 people had died.

Eight towns in the remote, mountainous area sustained serious damage in the quake and subsequent flooding and mudslides, state media said.

There were also power outages, while cell phone and Internet coverage was disrupted, residents and state media reported. The Red Cross Society of China said it had sent relief supplies to the affected areas, including jackets and tents.

"Many have been injured by collapsed houses," said a Minxian county doctor surnamed Du. "Many villagers have gone to local hospitals along the roads."

Photos posted on Chinese social media showed roads on the sides of riverbanks that had subsided and farmhouses reduced to piles of red bricks.

About 380 buildings had collapsed and 5,600 sustained damaged in Zhangxian county, the Dingxi municipal government said in a microblog post.

A school building in Minxian county was also damaged, a teacher in the area said, although he said he didn't believe any students were injured because they were away on summer holidays.

Heavy rain is also forecast for the areas hit by the quake, which officials fear would compound the damage by causing more landslides and flooding.

A second 5.6 earthquake struck the same region about 90 minutes after the first, Xinhua said, the most significant of several aftershocks. The United States Geological Survey said the first quake had a magnitude of 5.9.

Gansu abuts Sichuan province, where a 6.6 quake in April killed 164 people and injured more than 6,700, China's worst quake in three years.

That quake hit close to where a devastating 7.9 temblor killed some 70,000 people in May 2008.

Among those killed in the 2008 quake were thousands of children, raising suspicions that the schools that had collapsed on them had been poorly constructed, in part due to corruption.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina, Ben Blanchard and the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait)

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