China Quake Survivors Struggle With Altitude, Cold Wednesday's earthquake on the Tibetan plateau has left more than 700 people dead and severely damaged schools and monasteries. Rescue work is especially difficult because of the high altitude and temperatures that drop into the teens at night. Michele Norris talks with NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is on the scene.
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China Quake Survivors Struggle With Altitude, Cold

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China Quake Survivors Struggle With Altitude, Cold

China Quake Survivors Struggle With Altitude, Cold

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Rescue and relief operations are under way and accelerating in Qinghai province in western China, following that recent powerful earthquake. The death toll is over 700, but hundreds more are missing and an estimated 10,000 have been injured. Most dwellings were made of mud, brick and wood, and they have collapsed. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in the town nearest the epicenter and he joins us by cell phone now.

Anthony, you just rolled into town. Describe what you're able to see around you.

ANTHONY KUHN: Well, Michele, I'm standing right in the town's center and it's ringed with fire engines and ambulances and police cars. And there are several, several-story-high piles of rubble that used to be buildings. There are a lot of buildings that are still standing actually, but they've been abandoned. They're empty because people are afraid of the very strong aftershocks which have been happening with some frequency. I just felt one a minute ago.

The residents of this town have all camped out now on the horseracing grounds. And I have to add that the horseracing grounds are just one of the ways you know this is a very Tibetan area: lots of monasteries and Buddhist pagodas and temples. And to get here I drove for 12 hours from the provincial capital. So it's a very remote area and a very, very different part of China from what people in Beijing and Shanghai know.

NORRIS: We noted that many of the dwellings, particularly the places where people lived, were very simple, made of mud and brick. But not all the buildings collapsed. What kinds of structures actually survived?

KUHN: Yes. Well, it's very obvious. Basically, anything built before the 1990s did not survive. There were towns which were essentially just flattened to the ground by the earthquake. But more recent structures seem to have survived.

NORRIS: How are rescue operations going now? Are they still trying to find people that might be trapped in the rubble?

KUHN: Yes. The rescue operations actually seem to be going pretty well. They've managed to bring in quite a bit of heavy equipment, things like remote sensors to find survivors. They've airlifted several dozens of survivors to hospitals in other provincial capitals, so the work seems to be going quicker than, for example, the 2008 earthquake that hit Sichuan and killed many more people.

NORRIS: The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, has already visited and he's had a chance to talk to some of the survivors. Are people there - are people that you've heard from elsewhere in the country generally satisfied with the government response?

KUHN: Well, like the 2008 earthquake, this has elicited a big response from charities, from civil society in China. And, as in many previous natural disasters, the Chinese government is using this sort of populist attitude, showing that they care, that they respond quickly to natural disasters that afflict the population. And this is the hallmark of their administration. So, we sort of expected it and that's exactly what they did.

NORRIS: Anthony Kuhn, thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn speaking to us from the Qinghai province in western China.

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