Quake-hit residents flee after warning of new tremor

Many people in China's quake-hit Sichuan province fled their home towns and villages overnight after government seismologists forecast a major aftershock measuring between 6 and 7 on the Richter scale, state media said on Tuesday.

The Sichuan seismological bureau forecast the aftershock in Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the devastating 8.0-magnitude quake that killed more than 34,000 people on May 12.

The bureau warned the local government and people to be prepared for possible emergencies caused by the new aftershock, the official Xinhua news agency said.

More than 20 aftershocks measuring 5 or above on the Richter scale have already hit Sichuan since May 12, hampering relief efforts and causing some new casualties.

Chinese troops and rescue services on Monday reached the last 77 villages that had been cut off for about one week since the earthquake, the agency said.

Several more survivors were rescued from collapsed buildings, but nearly 10,000 were still buried under rubble and about 30,000 were listed as missing.

The government last week said it expected the final death toll to reach more than 50,000.

Some roads in 52 townships in Sichuan remained blocked and telecommunications were still not restored to 62 townships, the agency said.

The government began three days of national mourning for the earthquake victims Monday and suspended the Olympic torch relay through China, dpa reported.

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