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Dozens Die, 9,000 Hurt In 6.2 Quake North Of Beijing Homeless Huddle In Zero-Degree Temperatures

An earthquake flattened farming villages near the Great Wall Saturday, killing 48 people and leaving at least 20,000 homeless. Survivors fought to clear the damage today after enduring a bitter cold night in the northern mountains.

The magnitude-6.2 quake injured about 9,000 people, more than 1,200 of them seriously, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In Nantan, one of scores of damaged villages, farmers terrified that their quake-damaged earth and brick homes would collapse spent the night huddled under hastily erected lean-tos.

“We had no choice but to sleep outside. If there’s another quake my house could fall down,” said one farmer, surnamed Zhang, whose family of six slept in their yard without a fire or stove to ward off temperatures well below freezing.

A web of cracks covered the walls in all three rooms of the family’s single-story home. The quake toppled tens of thousands of buildings across two counties in the Yan mountains, leaving 20,000 families without homes and shaking buildings 150 miles to the south in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Officials dispatched tents and winter clothing to the stricken area as nighttime temperatures plunged to 4 degrees below zero.

Zhangbei county authorities rushed 30,000 blankets, 100 mattresses and padded overcoats to the scene, state-run television reported. Troops garrisoned in nearby Zhangjiakou sent five medical teams.

Aftershocks - 123 in the first hours after the quake - coursed through the area, with the strongest being magnitude-4.6, Xinhua said.

The news agency and state-run television, quoting government seismologists, predicted there would be no more major quakes and said Beijing would not be affected.

Xinhua said economic losses were estimated at at least $120 million.

Some survivors whose houses were destroyed were put up in government buildings, including schools, said Li Yongqing, an official at the Hebei Province Earthquake Bureau.

He and another bureau official, Song Zhixing, said the death toll had risen to 48 from the 47 reported Saturday by official media. Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said again today that 47 were killed, but sharply revised the number of seriously injured upward from 200 to 1,246.

Rescue teams found the county seat of Zhangbei devastated, with most buildings destroyed.

Another 800 houses had collapsed or cracked in the neighboring county seat of Shangyi, on Hebei province’s border with Inner Mongolia.

Eighty percent of homes were flattened in four towns along the two counties’ border, said Huangfu Qing, a seismologist coordinating rescue work.