BISHKEK (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake killed at least 70 people in Kyrgyzstan and levelled a village in the remote mountains of the Central Asian state, the emergencies ministry said on Monday.
The earthquake, measuring 6.3 according to the U.S. Geological Survey, jolted an area between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — Central Asia’s most densely populated corner prone to instability and ethnic tension.
But worst affected were the high-altitude villages of south Kyrgyzstan where one settlement was destroyed completely and the fate of a scattering of others remained unclear.
“The death toll is 70 according to the latest information,” said emergencies ministry spokesman Abdusamat Payazov from the regional centre of Osh. Up to 100 people were injured.
He said most houses in the Nura village on Kyrgyzstan’s border with China had been destroyed completely, adding that rescue teams were on their way to other areas to assess damage.
Severed from more populated areas by treacherous mountain passes, the villages were difficult to access quickly. Rescue efforts were also hampered by poor communications links.
“It’s difficult to extend all the necessary help, there is no telephone connection,” said Yelena Bayalinova, a health ministry spokeswoman. “Many have multiple injuries, broken limbs, they are in a state of shock.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, due to visit Kyrgyzstan later this week, sent his condolences in a telegram and said Moscow, which operates a military air base in Kyrgyzstan, was ready to provide humanitarian assistance.
Earthquakes are frequent in Central Asia, a region wedged between Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and China.
In 1966, the Uzbek capital Tashkent was flattened by a 7.5 earthquake when hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. A 6 magnitude quake rocked Tashkent this August but there was no damage.
Strong earthquakes hit China’s remote western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet on Monday.
The quake in Tibet was a magnitude 6.6 tremor that hit at 4.30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. British time) around 80 km (50 miles) west of the regional capital Lhasa, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its website (http:/earthquake.usgs.gov).
Residents in the city said they had felt the quake, but there was no visible damage. Closer to the epicentre, in the county of Qushui, buildings shook and windows rattled but a hospital official said there were no reports of any injuries.
It was followed around 15 minutes later by a 5.1 magnitude shock in a similar area.
Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Peter Millership