Nearly 600 die in China earthquakes

XINING, China — Rescuers combed through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors today, more than a day after strong earthquakes shook a mountainous Tibetan region of China, killing nearly 600 people and injuring thousands.

The series of quakes flattened buildings across remote western Yushu county and sent survivors, many bleeding from their wounds, flooding into the streets of Jiegu township. State television showed block after devastated block of toppled mud and wood homes. Local officials said 85 percent of the buildings had been destroyed.

Residents and troops garrisoned in the town used shovels and their hands to pull survivors and bodies from the rubble much of the day Wednesday. Several schools collapsed, with the state news agency saying at least 56 students died. Worst hit was the Yushu Vocational School, where the official Xinhua News Agency cited a local education official as saying 22 students, 20 of them girls, died.

State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of rescuers working at night, picking through the rubble aided by flashlights fixed to their safety helmets. A group of workers found a girl trapped for more than 12 hours under a heap of debris.

"I can't feel my arm," said the girl, who was curled up with her back to the workers. The workers talked to her and gave her water as others searched for pieces of wood to prop up the rubble that had entrapped her. As rescuers gingerly pulled her out and carried her to a stretcher, she could be heard saying: "I'm sorry for the trouble. Thank you. I will never forget this."

Crews set up emergency generators to restore operations at Yushu's airport, and by late afternoon the first of six flights landed carrying rescue workers and equipment. But the road to town was blocked by a landslide, hampering the rescue as temperatures dropped below freezing.

The death toll had risen to 589 by early today, with more than 8,000 others injured, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said in a statement. About 15,000 houses had collapsed, and 100,000 people need to be relocated, it said.

Many survivors spent the night in the cold outdoors, wrapping themselves in thick cotton blankets and lying on thin pads on the ground with cardboard boxes serving as makeshift pillows.

Xinhua said temperatures in the area can fall below freezing at night.