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A Tibetan woman prays in front of a partially-collapsed house in the earthquake-hit Jiegu town, Yushu, in west China's Qinghai province, on April 15. ((Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press))

Rescuers in a mountainous Tibetan area of western China continued to pull survivors and victims out of the rubble Thursday after strong earthquakes left more than 700 people dead.

China's Xinhua News Agency said 760 people died in the quake, while 243 people were still missing. The news agency reported 11,477 people had been injured — 1,174 of them severely.

Several schools collapsed in the quakes. State television quoted an education official as saying 66 children and 10 teachers had died. In one collapsed elementary school, rescuers digging with their hands pulled out 23 students alive.

Miao Chong Gang, the deputy director of China's disaster relief agency, said that apart from finding survivors, the impending challenge is to take care of about 80,000 people who have lost their homes. Authorities say the quakes crushed at least 15,000 homes.

Yang Xusheng of China's Red Cross Society said the cold weather in the mountainous region means tents and blankets are desperately needed.

Winds hamper recover efforts

"Temperature may drop below zero in the evening and this is very difficult for people who have to stay outside as a result of the quake," Yang said.

Rescue and recovery efforts are being made difficult by the area's geography and altitude, along with high winds.

Trucks need 12 hours to get from the main airport, as roads and bridges are smashed. Meanwhile, rescue workers quickly get exhausted because of the elevation: the quake-hit counties are more than 4,000 metres above sea level.

Yang Maowei, a captain of one of China's national earthquake rescue teams, said his men have never worked at that altitude, adding that some of his teammates have already experienced minor altitude sickness.

Members of the Chinese leadership scrambled their travel plans in the wake of the disaster.

Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Yushu on Thursday evening. He put off a planned trip next week to Indonesia, Brunei and Burma. President Hu Jintao, who was in Brazil, cancelled his plan to go to Venezuela and Peru so he could return home.

with files from The Associated Press