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China Uses Drone to Assess Quake Damage

Rescuers help villagers dismantle damaged walls after a shallow 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit the area in Pishan county in Hetian, northeast China's Xinjiang region, July 3, 2015.

China's air force dispatched a drone to the site of an earthquake in the far western region of Xinjiang Friday to help in assessing damage, in what it said was the first time it had used an unmanned aircraft for such a task.

The air force said in a statement on the Defense Ministry's website that the single drone was dispatched to the southern part of Xinjiang shortly after the quake struck and it "got a timely understanding of disaster relief needs."

It flew for 100 minutes over the quake zone, sending back accurate "scientific facts" about the situation on the ground.

The ministry gave no other details

Hotan, Xinjiang, China
Hotan, Xinjiang, China

At least six people were killed, 48 injured and about 3,000 homes destroyed or damaged when the magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit the northwest region of Xinjiang, the government and the Xinhua news agency said.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs added 1,000 tents were being sent to the region.

Communications have been disrupted and an airport was forced to close following the quake, which was followed by several aftershocks, according to Xinhua.

China's Earthquake Networks Center said the temblor struck in Pishan county in the Hotan region of Xinjiang at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles).

Earthquakes frequently strike China. A quake in the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008 killed almost 70,000 people.

The sparsely populated area is about 1,800 kilometers from the regional capital, Urumqi, and is mostly home to members of the Uighur ethnic minority.

Xinjiang, located on the borders of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, is one of China's most politically sensitive regions following years of violence, blamed by the government on Islamist militants.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.