Earthquake in China injures 11,000 and kills 180
A powerful earthquake struck China on Saturday at around 08:02 local time (00:02 GMT) close to Ya’an city in Lushan County in the South Western Chinese province of Sichuan. The earthquake has killed around 186 people and injured over 11,000.
The earthquake was considered by experts to be particularly strong due to the epicentre being only 12 km below the surface. Chinese officials measured the quake at magnitude 7.0 whilst the US Geological Survey put the figure at 6.6.
The quake struck early in the morning, and people as far away as the megacities of Chongqing and Chengdu left their houses and gathered on the streets or courtyards of their housing compounds to avoid the danger of aftershocks.
As the rescue efforts began, the casualty count has continued to rise and attempts to reach the villages that have been affected continue to be problematic due to blocked roads, landslides and disrupted electricity supplies.
The region has some considerably steep mountainous terrain and it has been particularly difficult to clear a path to remote villages, where some of the most isolated and exposed people currently need help.
“The current, most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours after the quake’s occurrence, the golden time for saving lives,” said Premier Li Keqiang who flew to the region soon after the incident.
Aid workers and over 6,000 troops have been dispatched to the area and have been told by the country’s president, Xi Jinping, to make “every possible effort”.
Helicopters and excavation equipment have also been deployed from military bases around Chengdu whilst tents, mobile phone charging stations and emergency supplies are slowly making their way to the affected areas.
China’s mobile phone network service – a primary method of communication in the country – was sporadic for a long period, as people tried to contact family members and emergency services to inform them of their situation.
As the golden 24 hours dwindle, survivors and people injured by the quake are currently being sheltered in tented triage centers in open spaces to prevent the risks that aftershocks present.
Emergency personnel are continuing to help more people and are working as hard as possible to get to the affected areas, although the terrain in many cases has proved impassable. In one case, two soldiers in the area died after their vehicle slid off a road and rolled down a cliff.
Sichuan province is historically an active earthquake zone, and experienced a devastating earthquake in 2008 that left 70,000 dead and 4.8 million people homeless. The 2008 earthquake saw a phenomenal effort played by large parts of the Chinese diaspora who organised and contributed to the aid effort through fundraising and active volunteering.
However, the subsequent corruption scandal that implicated local government officials as being responsible for the deaths of school children – due to the diversion of funds from the proper building of schools – is sure to remind officials that public attention will be fixed on the actions of those in charge.
Zhang Yong, a team captain with a non-governmental organisation called Blue Sky Rescue, estimated that there may be over 2,000 casualties, and that the earthquake was particularly intense.
The search for survivors and the restoration of electricity and water continues, as the full extent of the damage is yet unclear.