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Rescuers battle roadblocks, high altitude to reach survivors in China earthquake

The death toll in China's earthquake topped 600 on Thursday, as rescue teams pulled 1,000 survivors from the rubble but struggled with the high altitude and lack of heavy equipment.

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The central government has earmarked an initial 200 million yuan ($29 million) for quake relief, and the Ministry of Civil affairs had dispatched 20,000 tents, 50,000 items of winter clothing and 50,000 quilts from warehouses around the country, Zou said.

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Most schools collapsed

Seventy percent of Yushu's schools collapsed in the quake, reported state media, citing the head of the Red Cross chapter in Yushu. Three schools accounted for most of the dead, with 32 students at one primary school and 22 at the Yushu Vocational School.

The quality of school construction became a sensitive topic after 5,335 students died in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake when their shoddily built schools crumbled.

The Yushu and Qinghai governments welcomed accredited journalists from China and overseas to report on rescue efforts. Some provincial authorities have a history of detaining journalists reporting in ethnically Tibetan areas and in disaster zones. Malcolm Moore, correspondent for the Daily Telegraph of Britain, reached by mobile telephone on the main road into Yushu, said on Thursday he had not been stopped.

For travelers to the quake zone, "speed of access is slow because of landslides on roads,” Zhang Xiaodong, deputy director of the China National Earthquake Center told reporters in Beijing.

To reach Yushu from the provincial capital Xining (and nearest major airport) requires a 12- to 18-hour drive through the mountains, and logistical support once there is limited because so many locals were hard-hit by the quake, Mr. Miao said.

Looking for loved ones

In Beijing, Tibetans from Yushu nervously awaited news from loved ones back home. Zhaxi, a Tibetan studying at the Beijing Central University of Nationalities, told the Monitor by phone that he'd reached his brother, a policeman in Xining, who said he was headed for Yushu as a part of a rescue team.

The brothers had heard that several members of their uncle's family died. Neither had been able to reach their parents in Yushu.

"The region suffers from a lack of medical care and emergency rescue resources. Several surrounding towns are still waiting for help to arrive. I don't want to list who died in my uncle's family. I don't want to talk any more," Zhaxi said, then hung up.

Zhang Yajun contributed to this report.

IN PICTURES: Earthquake in China's Qinghai province