Death toll from China quake revised down to three, fate of tourists unclear

BEIJING (AFP) - The death toll from an earthquake in south-west China has been revised down, official figures published on Sunday said, though the fate of tourists reported trapped in landslides remained unclear.

The earthquake hit a remote part of south-west China on Saturday near the popular tourist area of Shangri-La and was initially reported to have killed five people.

But the website of the Yunnan Earthquake Prevention and Disaster Reduction Bureau, citing the Yunnan Health Department, reported on Sunday that the toll was revised down to three late Saturday due to duplicated death reports by different counties.

It added that 40 people were injured in the quake, six seriously. It provided no figures for missing or trapped people.

The earthquake, on the border with Sichuan province, sparked landslides, blocked roads, trapped tourist buses, cut off communications and toppled or damaged tens of thousands of homes in the mountainous area.

The driver of a tourist bus died and three tourists were injured as falling rocks smashed into the vehicle, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

Three other tourist buses were trapped by landslides triggered by the quake and aftershocks, Xinhua said.

It did not reveal the nationalities of the wounded tourists.

The 5.8-magnitude quake, which struck at 8:04am, was centred on Yunnan's Benzilan town, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. It was about 10 kilometres deep.

It toppled 600 homes and damaged more than 55,000 others, forcing over 9,000 local residents to relocate, Xinhua said.

Benzilan is in Deqin county, roughly 60 kilometres from Shangri-La county, which is named after the fictional mountain paradise in the James Hilton novel "Lost Horizon".

Local officials borrowed the name to attract more tourists to the area, which hosted around 7.6 million travellers last year.

Shangri-La itself was little affected, residents said.

More than 300 aftershocks had shaken the area, according to Xinhua.

The earthquake was the second in the area in four days, after a 5.1-magnitude quake on Wednesday.

In July, twin quakes killed at least 95 people in China's western Gansu province.

A magnitude 6.6 earthquake in Sichuan province killed about 200 people earlier in April, five years after almost 90,000 people were killed by a huge tremor in the same province.

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