More than 150 people were killed and 5,700 injured when a strong earthquake hit a mountainous part of southwestern China on Saturday, destroying thousands of homes and triggering landslides.
The shallow earthquake struck Sichuan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau just after 8:00 am, prompting a major rescue operation in the same area where 87,000 people were reported dead or missing in a massive quake in 2008.
Nearly 13 hours after the quake hit Lushan county in the city of Ya’an, the death toll stood at 157, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Ministry of Civil Affairs which said more than 5,700 had been injured.
At least 10,000 homes were destroyed, the Sichuan government said as rescue workers searched through the rubble for survivors.
Local seismologists registered the quake at magnitude 7.0 while the US Geological Survey gave it as 6.6. More than 260 aftershocks followed, the People’s Daily said on its website.
The shaking was felt in the provincial capital Chengdu, which lies to the east, and even in the megacity of Chongqing several hundred kilometres (miles) away.
Panicked residents fled into the streets, some of them still in their slippers and pyjamas.
“Members of my family were woken up. They were lying in bed when the strong shaking began and the wardrobes began shaking strongly,” said a 43-year-old Chongqing resident surnamed Wang. “We grabbed our clothes and ran outside.”
About 6,000 soldiers and police were heading to the area to help rescue work and five drones were sent to capture aerial images, Xinhua said.
Some teams had to contend with roads blocked by debris, state television CCTV reported, while one military vehicle carrying 17 troops plummeted over a cliff, killing one soldier and injuring seven others, Xinhua said.
“There are mountains on all sides, it is very easy to trigger mudslides and very dangerous,” one user wrote on Sina Weibo microblog site.
The disaster evoked comparisons to the 2008 Sichuan quake, the country’s worst in decades, and President Xi Jinping ordered all out efforts to minimise casualties, Xinhua said.
Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Sichuan in the afternoon and took a helicopter to the quake zone.
The first 24 hours was “the golden time for saving lives”, he was quoted as saying.
“Life is the most important thing and the top priority is saving lives,” he said.
Amid the rescue efforts, a 30-year-old pregnant woman surnamed Zhao was pulled out of the rubble along with a young child and sent to hospital for treatment, the People’s Daily said on its Weibo account.
“We have pulled 13 people out of the rubble, including 10 alive,” local official Luo Bin told Xinhua in the village of Gucheng.
“We are not sure whether more people are buried underneath but the search will go on,” he said.
CCTV showed one survivor receiving stitches for his head on the street, and another elderly man being pushed in a wheelbarrow padded with blankets past a row of tents set up outside a Lushan hospital.
A local TV journalist due to get married on Saturday turned up instead for work and a photograph of her holding a microphone in her wedding dress with bright makeup and a corsage was widely circulated online.
Meanwhile Ya’an residents were offering to donate badly needed blood, the People’s Daily said.
Posted for VPRO-E_TV.