A POWERFUL earthquake, which struck the steep hills of China’s south-western Sichuan province yesterday, left at least 157 people dead and more than 5,700 injured.
• At least 157 people killed by earthquake in China’s Sichuan province
• Quake measured at up to magnitude 7
• Earthquake on same fault line as Longmeshan quake in 2008 that left 90,000 killed or missing
The disaster came almost five years after another devastating quake caused widespread damage across Sichuan.
Yesterday’s magnitude-6.6 quake, while not as destructive as that of 2008, toppled buildings, triggered landslides and disrupted telephone and power lines in mountainous Lushan county.
The village of Longmen was particularly hard hit, with authorities saying nearly all the buildings there had been destroyed in a terrifying, minute-long seismic shock.
“It was such a big quake that everyone was scared,” said one woman at a nursery. “We all fled for our lives.”
Rescuers turned the square outside the Lushan County Hospital into an emergency centre where medical personnel bandaged the wounds of quake victims.
Rescuers dynamited boulders that had fallen across roads to reach Longmen and other damaged areas lying further up the mountain valleys.
The China Earthquake Administration said at least 157 people had died. The government of Yaan city, which administers Lushan, said in a statement that more than 5,700 people had been injured, hundreds of them severely.
The quake – measured by the Earthquake Administration at magnitude 7.0 and the US Geological Survey at 6.6 – struck the steep hills of Lushan county shortly after 8am, when many people were at home, sleeping or having breakfast.
People in their underwear and wrapped in blankets ran into the streets of Yaan and also the provincial capital of Chengdu, 70 miles east of Lushan, according to online posts.
The quake’s shallow depth, less than eight miles, is likely to have magnified its impact.
CCTV cameras captured the moment the quake struck.
Chengdu’s airport shut down for about an hour before re-opening, though many flights were cancelled or delayed.
Lushan lies where the fertile Sichuan plain meets foothills that eventually rise to the Tibetan plateau and sits on the Longmenshan fault. It was along that fault line that the devastating magnitude-7.9 quake struck on 12 May, 2008, leaving more than 90,000 people dead or missing and presumed dead in one of the worst natural disasters to strike China in recent decades.
“It was just like 12 May,” Liu Xi, a writer in Yaan city, who was jolted awake by yesterday’s quake, reported via the Twitter-like Weibo service. “All the home decorations fell at once, and the old house cracked,” he said.
Xinhua news agency said the well-known Bifengxia panda preserve, which is near Lushan, was not affected by the quake. Dozens of pandas were moved to Bifengxia from another preserve, Wolong, after its habitat was wrecked by the 2008 quake.
As in most natural disasters, the government mobilised thousands of soldiers and civilians – 7,000 people by yesterday afternoon – sending excavators and other heavy machinery, as well as tents, blankets and other emergency supplies. One soldier died after the vehicle in which he and a dozen others were travelling slid off the road and rolled down an embankment.
Premier Li Keqiang flew to Yaan to direct rescue efforts, and he and president Xi Jinping ordered officials and rescuers to make saving people the top priority, Xinhua said.
With roads blocked for several hours after the quake, the military surveyed the disaster area by air. Aerial photos released by the military and shown on state television showed houses in ruins in Lushan and outlying villages flattened to rubble. The roofs of some taller buildings appeared to have slipped off, exposing the floors beneath.
A person whose posts on Weibo carried a locator geotag for Lushan, said that many buildings had collapsed and that people could see helicopters hovering above the area.
The Earthquake Administration said there had been at least 627 aftershocks, including two of magnitude 5.0 or higher.
“It’s too dangerous,” said a person with on Weibo with a Lushan geotag. “Even the aftershocks are scary.”
While rescuers and state media rushed to the scene of the disaster, China’s social media users filled the information gap, posting photos of people rushing into the streets for safety and of buildings flattened by the quake.