7.0-magnitude quake felt in five provinces; rescue hampered by landslips

At least 157 people were killed and more than 5,700 injured in a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck China’s south-western Sichuan province on Saturday morning. Authorities fear the number of casualties could rise considering the strength of the earthquake, which was felt in at least five surrounding provinces.

The earthquake struck the city of Ya’an in Lushan county, around 140 km from the bustling provincial capital Chengdu at 8.02 a.m. local time (5.32 am IST) with an epicentre at 13 km depth — shallow enough, authorities said, to amplify the impact.

Xinhua said at least four major aftershocks were felt, the largest recorded as having a 5.3 magnitude.

As many as 33 counties and 12 cities in Sichuan province have been affected by the earthquake. The worst-hit areas were thought to be the rural townships of Baoxing, Taiping and Longmen, located in the suburbs of Ya’an, a city of 1.5 million. More than 140,000 people, officials said, will have to be relocated.In Longmen, a township of 7,000 homes, as many as 5,000 houses collapsed.

The government deployed five Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to collect aerial images in the three townships, The China Daily reported.

More than 6,000 policemen and firefighters and 2,000 soldiers had been dispatched to assist in recovery efforts, with 2,600 people evacuated to safety, according to the government. As night fell on Saturday, firefighters had managed to pull out 91 survivors from collapsed buildings and search continues for those still trapped under the debris.

Recovery work was complicated by landslips blocking access in several places and two barrier lakes “posing risks for rescue efforts”, officials said. One rescue vehicle carrying 17 soldiers fell off a cliff on the way to the quake zone, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported. One soldier died.

Premier Li Keqiang, who travelled to Lushan from Beijing on Saturday afternoon, called on rescuers to “grasp the first 24 hours after the earthquake, the golden time for saving lives”.

The earthquake struck a part of the province not far from where a devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake five years ago that left at least 90,000 people dead or missing.

The China Earthquake Administration (CEA) said the quake “originated in the Longmenshan fracture zone”, where 12 earthquakes of 5-magnitude or more have been reported since 1900.

Unexpected

Saturday’s earthquake was “not expected to be as disastrous” as the 2008 earthquake, Pan Huaiwen, director of the China Earthquake Networks Centre (CENC), told Xinhua.

The Ministry of Education said that, unlike 2008, there were no reports of students killed on Saturday, looking to assuage public concerns about whether the tragedy of five years ago would again be repeated.

The city of Ya’an was also badly affected by the 2008 earthquake, and, like surrounding towns and counties, was only beginning to turn the page over the last disaster when Saturday’s earthquake struck.

Among the despair, officials had one story of hope: two hours after the earthquake, a baby was born, in perfectly healthy condition, in an ambulance in Ya’an after rescue workers had rushed the mother to safety.