Horrific earthquake kills at least 118 people in China as 500 more injured

A powerful earthquake in a remote region of northwestern China has killed at least 118 people, injured 500 more and caused huge damage to houses, roads and other infrastructure – with a massive rescue operation underway.

The magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck near the boundary between Gansu and Qinghai provinces at a relatively shallow depth of six miles (10 kilometres) just before midnight on Monday, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said. The US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 5.9.

By mid-morning, 105 people had been confirmed dead in Gansu and another 397 injured, including 16 in critical condition, Han Shujun, a spokesperson for the provincial emergency management department, said at a news conference. Thirteen others were killed and 182 injured in Qinghai in an area north of the epicentre, state media reported.

China News Service said another 20 were missing in Qinghai after being buried in a landslide. Power cables were also knocked out.

The earthquake was felt in much of the surrounding area, including Lanzhou, Gansu’s provincial capital, about 50 miles (100 kilometres) northeast of the epicentre. Footage showed students at Lanzhou University leaving a dormitory building and standing outside with long down jackets over their pyjamas.

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Wang Xi, the student who captured the images, said: “The earthquake was too intense. My legs went weak, especially when we ran downstairs from the dormitory.”

The quake struck in Gansu’s Jishishan county, about three miles (five kilometres) from the provincial boundary with Qinghai, about 800 miles (1,300 kilometres) southwest of Beijing, China’s capital. There were nine aftershocks by 10 am local time (2am GMT), about 10 hours after the initial earthquake, the largest one registering a magnitude of 4.1, a Gansu official said.

The remote and mountainous area is home to several predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and near some Tibetan communities. Geographically, it is in the centre of China, though the area is commonly referred to as the northwest, as it is at the northwestern edge of China’s more populated plains.

Tents, folding beds and quilts were being sent to the disaster area, state broadcaster CCTV said. It quoted Chinese leader Xi Jinping as calling for an all-out search and rescue effort to minimise the casualties. The overnight low in the area was minus 15 to minus nine degrees Celsius (5 to 16 degrees Fahrenheit), the China Meteorological Administration said.

At least 4,000 firefighters, soldiers and police officers were dispatched in the rescue effort, and the People’s Liberation Army Western Theatre set up a command post to direct its work. Han, the Gansu spokesperson, said the rescue work was proceeding in an orderly manner and asked people to avoid going to the quake-hit areas to prevent traffic jams that could hinder the effort.

A video posted by the Ministry of Emergency Management showed emergency workers in orange uniforms using rods to try to move heavy pieces of what looked like concrete debris at night. Other nighttime videos distributed by state media showed workers lifting out a victim and helping a slightly stumbling person to walk in an area covered with light snow.

Middle school student Ma Shijun ran out of his dormitory barefoot without even putting on a coat, according to a Xinhua report. It said the strong tremors left his hands a bit numb, and that teachers quickly organised the students on the playground. CCTV reported that there was damage to water and electricity lines, as well as transportation and communications infrastructure.

Earthquakes are somewhat common in the mountainous area of western China that rises up to form the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. Last year in September, at least 74 people were reported killed in a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that shook China’s southwestern province of Sichuan, triggering landslides and shaking buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu, where 21 million residents were under a COVID-19 lockdown.

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China’s deadliest earthquake in recent years was a 7.9 magnitude quake in 2008 that killed almost 90,000 people in Sichuan. The tremor devastated towns, schools and rural communities outside Chengdu, leading to a years-long effort to rebuild with more resistant materials.

The magnitude 7.6 Tangshan earthquake in 1976 is estimated to have killed at least 300,000 people. Most of the roads were destroyed and 85 percent of the buildings collapsed.

The Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 killed at least 100,000 people, with 700,000 more thought to have died from plagues and famine in the aftermath.

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