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Death Toll From Chinese Earthquake Rises to 760

Emergency workers in western China are struggling against freezing cold and altitude sickness in the search for more survivors of this week's powerful earthquake that killed at least 760 people and left thousands homeless

Using their bare hands and shovels, rescuers continued Thursday to claw through the rubble of buildings that collapsed in a powerful earthquake in Qinghai Province.

The death toll is expected to rise with hundreds more still believed to buried under collapsed mud and wood structures. The quake, which struck the mainly Tibetan region early Wednesday, is the deadliest in China in almost two years.

Photographs of the victims are emerging and they show many school children among the dead.

State media reports say 66 pupils and 10 teachers have been killed and dozens of grieving parents are waiting for news near ruined schools.

Thousands of people spent the night out in the open wrapped in blankets against the below freezing temperatures.

Zou Ming is the Ministry of Civil Affairs' disaster relief head. He says medical aid, food and shelter are the top priority for the 100,000 people living in the quake zone.

Zou says a huge relief effort to send tents and medical equipment is under way.

He says soldiers and medical teams have been dispatched.

Doctors who have reached the worst affected areas in Yushu County - where 85 percent of buildings have been destroyed - have rigged makeshift hospitals.

But they say the region's high altitude hampers rescue and aid workers. At high altitudes, there is less oxygen in the air, and people from lower regions often have problems coping.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is to visit the area late Thursday. He and President Hu Jintao have called for an all-out rescue effort to reach the disaster zone on the Tibetan plateau known as the "Roof of the World".

The United States said it is "ready to assist" if China requests international aid.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama offered prayers for those who died while Pope Benedict called for "solidarity" with the victims.

The 6.9 quake and a score of aftershocks were centered in the mountains that divide Qinghai province from the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Some of the scenes are a reminiscent of those seen after the May 2008 earthquake that claimed more than 70,000 lives in neighboring Sichuan Province. Among the victims were thousands of school children killed when their schools crumbled in the quake.

Accusations that the schools were poorly built are still a source of controversy in China.

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