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China rushes relief as quake toll rises to 186

LUSHAN, China -- Luo Shiqiang sat near chunks of concrete, bricks and a ripped sofa and told how his grandfather was just returning from feeding chickens when their house collapsed and crushed him to death in Saturday's powerful earthquake in southwestern China.

"We lost everything in such a short time," the college student said yesterday. He said his cousin also was injured in the collapse, but that other members of his family were spared because they were out working in the fields of hard-hit Longmen village in Lushan county.

The Sichuan province earthquake killed at least 186 people, injured 11,000 and left nearly two dozen missing, mostly in the rural communities around Ya'an city, along the same fault line where, five years ago, a devastating quake to the north killed more than 90,000 people in Sichuan and neighboring areas in one of China's worst natural disasters.

The Lushan and Baoxing counties hardest-hit on Saturday had escaped the worst of the damage in the 2008 quake, and residents there said they benefited little from the region's rebuilding after the disaster, with no special reinforcements made or new evacuation procedures introduced in their remote communities.

Luo, 20, said he wished more had been done to make his community's buildings quake-resistant. "Maybe the country's leaders really wanted to help us, but when it comes to the lower levels the officials don't carry it out," he said.

Relief teams flew in helicopters and dynamited through landslides yesterday to reach some of the most isolated communities, where rescuers in orange overalls led sniffer dogs through piles of brick, concrete and wood debris to search for survivors.

The quake, measured by China's earthquake administration at magnitude 7.0 and by the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.6, struck shortly after 8 a.m. Tens of thousands of people moved into tents or cars, unable to return home or afraid to go back as aftershocks continued.

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