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China earthquakes damage 20,000 homes, leave 50 dead (+video)

China earthquakes: Southwestern China was hit with a series of shallow, damaging earthquakes Friday. The quakes damaged an estimated 20,000 homes and buildings in rural China. 

Video of earthquake aftermath in southwestern China Friday.
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A series of earthquakes collapsed houses and triggered landslides in a remote mountainous part of southwestern China on Friday, killing at least 50 people with the toll expected to rise. Damage was preventing rescuers from reaching some outlying areas, and communications were disrupted.

The quakes started with a 5.6-magnitude shock before 11:30 a.m. along the borders of Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, and another equally big quake struck shortly after noon followed by more than 60 aftershocks, Chinese and U.S. government seismologists said. Though of moderate strength, the quakes were shallow, which often causes more damage.

Hardest hit was Yiliang County, where 49 of the 50 deaths occurred, said Yunnan province government agencies and state media. Another 150 people in the county were injured, said Zhang Junwei, a spokesman for the provincial seismology bureau.

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China Central Television showed roads littered with rocks and boulders, and pillars of dust rising over hillcrests — signs of landslides. Footage showed a couple hundred people crowding into what looked like a school athletic field in Yiliang's county seat, a sizeable city spread along a river in a valley bottom.

With some roads impassable, rescuers had yet to reach some outlying villages and towns, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Though quakes in the area occur frequently, buildings in rural areas and China's fast-growing smaller cities and towns are often constructed poorly. In 2008, a magnitude-7.9 quake that hit Sichuan province, just north of Yunnan, killed nearly 90,000 people, with many of the deaths blamed on poorly built structures, including schools.

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