A magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit a remote, mostly rural area of southwestern China’s Sichuan Province yesterday, killing at least 152 people and injuring about 5,500 close to where a big quake killed almost 70,000 people in 2008.
The earthquake, China’s worst in three years, struck at 8:02am in Lushan County near Ya’an City at a depth of 12km, the US Geological Survey said.
The quake was felt by residents in neighboring provinces and in the provincial capital of Chengdu, causing many people to rush out of buildings, according to accounts on China’s Sina Weibo service.
Chinese state media said 156 people had been confirmed dead and more than 5,500 injured.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) said all efforts must be put into rescuing victims to limit the death toll.
After arriving at the disaster zone by helicopter, Li directed earthquake relief efforts from a plaza in Longmen Township in Lushan, Xinhua news agency said.
Li asked that a road be opened to Baoxing County, one of the most affected by the earthquake, and that rescuers “act quickly” in their efforts, Xinhua quoted him as saying.
“The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours since the quake’s occurrence, the golden time for saving lives,” Xinhua quoted Li as saying earlier.
Xinhua said 6,000 troops were heading to the area to help with rescue efforts. State television CCTV said only emergency vehicles were being allowed into Yaan, though Chengdu airport had reopened.
Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan, where water and electricity were cut off. Pictures on Chinese news sites showed toppled buildings and people in bloodied bandages being treated in tents outside the hospital, which appeared only lightly damaged.
Rescuers in Lushan had pulled 32 survivors out of rubble, Xinhua said. In villages closest to the epicenter, almost all low-rise houses and buildings had collapsed, footage on state television showed.
The China Meteorological Association warned of a possibility of landslides occurring in Lushan on Saturday and Sunday, the agency said in a statement on its Web site.
A resident in Chengdu, 140km from Yaan, told Xinhua he was on the 13th floor of a building when he felt the quake. The building shook for about 20 seconds and he saw tiles fall from nearby buildings.
There have been no reports of Taiwanese injured in the quake, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau said,
Meanwhile, the National Fire Agency said its special search-and-rescue team is standing by to assist in the rescue efforts in China. The team also joined the rescue missions in Japan after the March 11, 2011, earthquake there.
Additional reporting by CNA