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QUAKE RATTLES CHINA, KILLING 29, FLATTENING 8,000 HOMES

SHARE QUAKE RATTLES CHINA, KILLING 29, FLATTENING 8,000 HOMES

A major earthquake struck rural north China early Thursday, killing at least 29 people and flattening about 8,000 homes, official reports said.

A three-paragraph report by the Xinhua News Agency said 34 people were injured. It said aftershocks continued.The quake was centered about 135 miles west of Beijing on the border of Shanxi and Hebei provinces and was felt in the capital. The epicenter was near Datong, famous for its Yungang Caves that hold thousands of Buddhist paintings and statues dating back to the 5th century.

It was not known if the quake damaged any of the caves. Efforts to reach Datong by telephone were not successful.

The Chinese quake came less than 24 hours after a massive earthquake hit San Francisco, but State Seismological Bureau officials said there was no evidence of a link between the two temblors.

Bureau director, Fang Zhangsun, told Xinhua that additional strong aftershocks were unlikely.

He said transportation and communications in the quake area remained intact and that relief work was being carried out, but he gave no details.

An official at the Civil Affairs Ministry, in charge of disaster relief, said: "We're looking into it now. Call us back tomorrow."

The affected region is a dry, windswept farming area, where the main crops are wheat and other grains and most people live in one-story homes of unfired clay bricks. Such buildings easily collapse in a strong quake.

Shanxi also is China's main coal-producing province, and the stark brown land is pocked with coal mines.

The Seismological Bureau said the first quake hit at 10:57 p.m. Wednesday (10:57 a.m. EDT) and measured 5.7 on the Richter scale. At least four others registering 5 or above hit in the next six hours, including a quake of 6 on the scale at about 1 a.m. today.

An aftershock measuring 5.1 hit at 6:29 p.m., Xinhua said. More than 300 lesser aftershocks were recorded.

Earthquakes are frequent in China, with the most recent serious tremor injuring 54 people and destroying 4,000 homes in southwest China's Sichuan province last month.

Five earthquakes, measuring up to 6.7 on the Richter scale, struck western Sichuan in a three-week period in June and July, killing 11 people.

China's worst earthquake in recent history leveled the northeast city of Tangshan in 1976, leaving 240,000 dead by official count. Unofficial estimates have put the death toll at three times that number. Its magnitude was estimated at 8.0.

The Richter scale is a measure of ground movement as recorded by seismographs.