At least 73 people were killed and almost 600 injured when two shallow earthquakes struck northwest China early yesterday, officials said, as rescuers battled to reach survivors in the remote, mountainous area.
The local government in Dingxi in Gansu Province, where the magnitude 5.9 and magnitude 5.6 tremors struck, said on its verified social media account that 14 people were missing.
“More than 21,000 buildings were severely damaged and more than 1,200 have collapsed,” an official at the provincial earthquake bureau said, adding that 371 aftershocks had been recorded.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the initial magnitude 5.9 quake hit at 7:45am, with its epicenter 151km west of Beidao in Gansu at a depth of just 9.8km.
A second magnitude 5.6 tremor hit the same region at 9:12am and was 10.1km deep, USGS said.
A resident of Min County said he was at work at a medicine production plant when the tremor struck and he saw tower blocks shake “ferociously.”
“I was in the workshop. I felt violent shaking and so I ran to the yard of the plant immediately,” said the man, surnamed Ma. “Our factory is only one floor. When I came to the yard, I saw an 18-story building, the tallest in our county, shaking ferociously, especially the 18th floor.”
Nearly 3,000 firefighters, police, soldiers and local government workers had been sent to the area, Xinhua news agency said, adding that rescue efforts were being hampered by landslides and roads had been blocked by heavy rain in previous days.
“We are rushing to the scene,” Dingxi’s vice mayor told CCTV, which showed an orange-suited rescue worker riding on a tractor.
“The damage to houses made from earth bricks has been severe and many are now unusable,” the vice mayor added.
While Gansu is one of China’s more sparsely populated provinces, Dingxi, which includes the worst-hit counties, has a population of about 2.7 million.
Pictures broadcast on state television showed rural villages with rubble-strewn streets.
A total of 380 buildings collapsed and thousands were damaged in Zhang County, according to an online post by the Dingxi local government.
Communications were cut off in 13 towns in the county, Xinhua said, and power was off in some areas.
The quake was felt in the provincial capital, Lanzhou, and as far away as Xian, the capital of neighboring Shaanxi Province, Xinhua said.
People posting on China’s hugely popular microblogs expressed sympathy for the victims.
“I hope the dead will rest in peace,” read one typical remark.
Beijing’s own China Earthquake Networks Center put the magnitude of the larger quake at 6.6.
The China Earthquake Administration said the same fault zone was linked to a magnitude 8 quake on July 21, 1654, Xinhua added.
The USGS rated yesterday’s main tremor at seven on its “shakemap,” with shaking perceived to be “very strong” and the potential to cause “moderate” damage.
Weather reports also said rain was expected in the area, which could hamper rescue efforts in the mountainous region.
Disaster relief agencies have sent 500 tents and 2,000 quilts to the quake-hit area, Xinhua said.