A series of earthquakes collapsed houses and triggered landslides in mountainous southwestern China yesterday, killing at least 64 people, with the toll expected to rise.
The quakes struck near the border of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, the first at 11:19am and the second about 45 minutes later, the US Geological Survey said. They were of moderate strength, ranging from magnitude 4.8 to 5.6, but were shallow, at a depth of about 9.8km, which often causes more damage, especially because the areas where the quakes hit are rural and buildings in such areas are often poorly constructed.
By comparison, the magnitude 7.6 quake that struck Costa Rica this week was 41km below the surface, a depth which combined with strict building codes to limit damage and casualties.
Xinhua news agency said the quakes destroyed or damaged 20,000 homes. A statement on the Web site of the Yunnan Seismological Bureau said more than 100,000 people had been evacuated.
Xinhua said a total of 700,000 people in Yiliang and neighboring Daguan County had their lives disrupted by the quakes. State-run China Central Television showed several hundred people crowded into a school athletic field in Yiliang’s county seat — a sizeable town spread in a mountain valley along a river. A black, pillar-shaped cloud of dust rose over the horizon, apparently from a landslide in a nearby valley.
A government official in Jiaokui, a town in Yiliang, said a large number of houses had collapsed.
“The casualty number is still being compiled. I don’t know what it was like for the other towns, but my town got hit badly,” he said.
Like many Chinese officials he refused to give his name.
Mobile phone services were down and regular phone lines disrupted. Phones were cut off to clinics in four villages in Qiaoshan, another town in Yiliang.
Calls to police stations and hospitals in Yiliang went unanswered, but a worker at No. 2 Renmin Hospital in Zhaotong City said medical staff were treating the injured.
“We have admitted injured people, but don’t have an overall number yet, and we can’t comment without government approval,” he told reporters, declining to give his name.