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YILIANG, Yunnan - Premier Wen Jiabao on Saturday called for rapid, all-out efforts to search for survivors and save lives following multiple quakes that have claimed at least 80 lives in southwestern province of Yunnan.
The first 72 hours are critical for post-quake rescue operations and rescuers must make their utmost efforts to find and rescue survivors, Wen said.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (Front R) visits the quake-hit area at Zhaotong city of Yunnan Province, Sept 8, 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]
Wen reached mountainous Yiliang County, one of the worst-hit areas, around 1 am Saturday. He spent a sleepless night visiting quake survivors in villages and hospitals.
In a tent outside a hospital building, Wen visited a four-year-old girl who suffered a hand fracture and lost her grandfather in the quake after a falling boulder destroyed her family's home.
"(You) must hold on and take good care of the child," Wen told the girl's mother.
The central square of Yiliang County is covered with tents and temporary shelters for those who have been relocated.
Wen called on the quake survivors in the square to work together and remain confident.
He also thanked soldiers and police officers who have conducted rescue and relief operations.
At 4:40 am, Wen called a meeting in a temporary tent in the quake zone, where he told local officials that the top priority now is to save people. He asked rescuers to reach every village on Saturday.
He demanded coordinated efforts in treating the injured in order to minimize the number of casualties.
Shelter, food, water and medical treatment should be appropriately arranged for the 200,000 local residents who were forced to evacuate, Wen said.
"We have to keep safety as a top concern and guard against epidemics," Wen said, urging rescuers to treat garbage and medical waste appropriately.
Wen inspected relief efforts around 10:45 am Saturday, inquiring about local residents' living conditions and warning of the risk of quake-triggered disasters.
Wen asked authorities to formulate specific standards concerning subsidies and compensation provided to local residents, as well as map out detailed post-quake reconstruction policies.
Two quakes measuring 5.7 and 5.6 on the Richter scale hit a border area near Yiliang County in Yunnan and Weining County in Guizhou Province at 11:19 am and 12:16 pm Friday, respectively, followed by multiple aftershocks.
"The quakes are not over yet. Aftershocks continue, and within a period of time we will need to guard against secondary and geological hazards," Wen said.
The national observatory has forecast rainy weather for the region over the next three days, which may hinder rescue efforts.
The observatory warned of possible rain-triggered geological disasters and urged local authorities to enhance monitoring.
As part of its efforts to ensure transportation for quake relief personnel and supplies, the Civil Aviation Administration on Saturday ordered airlines to arrange flights and dispatch chartered flights if necessary to transport relief materials and personnel to the quake zone.
It has asked the Yibin airport in Sichuan Province, the closest airport to quake-hit Yiliang county in Yunnan, to operate around-the-clock to handle aid flights.
Friday's quakes have caused direct economic losses of 3.69 billion yuan ($581 million) in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Saturday.
Preliminary statistics collected as of 10 am Saturday indicated that the quakes have left 80 people dead and 820 others injured, and forced the relocation of 201,000 people in Yunnan.
The earthquakes also cut off electricity, triggered landslides and damaged hundreds of thousands of houses in Yunnan, causing 3.5 billion yuan in direct economic losses.
According to the ministry, there have been no casualties reported in neighboring Guizhou, where the quakes forced the evacuation of 28,000 people.
State and provincial civil affairs authorities have sent 21,000 tents, 31,000 quilts and 26,000 coats to Yunnan. The Red Cross Society of China has also dispatched quilts, jackets and tents to the quake zone.