BEIJING - A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck southwestern China on Sunday, killing at least 367 people and leaving 1,881 injured in a remote area of Yunnan province, and causing thousands of buildings, including a school, to collapse.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake registered at a shallow depth of less than 1 mile (1.6 km). Chinese state media said it was felt most strongly in Yunnan as well as in the neighbouring provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan. The official Xinhua news agency said the epicentre was in Longtoushan town in Yunnan’s mountainous Ludian county.
Communications have been seriously affected and rescuers have begun arriving on the scene, the report said. Pictures posted online by state media showed troops stretchering people away and cars damaged by fallen bricks. Many people rushed out of buildings onto the street after the quake hit, electricity supplies were cut and at least one school collapsed, Xinhua added, with more than 12,000 houses having collapsed and 30,000 sustaining damage. Ludian resident Ma Liya told Xinhua the streets were like a “battlefield after bombardment”. The government is sending 2,000 tents, 3,000 folding beds, 3,000 quilts and 3,000 coats to the disaster zone, where heavy rain forecast for the coming days will add to the misery, the report said. Ludian is home to some 265,900 people, Xinhua added. This region of China is frequently struck by quakes, with one killing more than 1,400 in the same part of Yunnan in 1974. A quake in Sichuan in 2008 killed almost 70,000 people.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported the quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and said it struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres at 4:30 pm (0830 GMT). ‘Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries,’ Xinhua quoted local official Chen Guoyong as saying in the township of Longtoushan, which sits at the epicentre.
State television broadcast footage of people running from their homes and gathering in the streets, as witnesses described the devastation on social networks. ‘The walls of several buildings crumbled, and water pipes were ruptured. The electricity was cut off,’ wrote a user who said they lived in Ludian county, 23 kilometres (14 miles) from the epicentre, on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
The user’s message was accompanied by images of cracked walls and a pile of bricks strewn across the road. Another Ludian resident described the scene as resembling a ‘battlefield after bombardment’, telling Xinhua ‘I have never felt (such) strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins.’ The county was the worst hit, with 122 residents killed, more than 180 missing and 1,300 injured, though at least 53 deaths were recorded in neighbouring districts. Electricity and telecommunications have been cut across the area.
Ludian has a population of 265,900, and sits more than 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the provincial capital of Kunming. State media announced that 2,500 troops had been dispatched to quake-hit areas late Sunday, joining a team of more than 300 police and firefighters from Zhaotong City, the capital of the prefecture. The equipment brought to the area included life detection instruments and excavating tools. The province also sent 392 rescuers and sniffer dogs to aid the relief operation. Volunteer Ma Hao, a college student who was helping to carry the injured out of the collapsed buildings in Longtoushan, described a race to pull the living from the rubble that left little time for the dead. ‘We had no time to take care of the bodies. We need to help those alive first,’ he told Xinhua.
A second quake of 4.1-magnitude was registered just two-and-a-half hours later, 18 kilometres (11 miles) south of Zhaotong City, USGS said. Heavy rain in the vicinity may pose challenges to rescuers, with more downpours forecast in the coming week. USGS had warned that the population of the region resided in structures ‘highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking’. Complicating matters, the road leading to Longtoushan was damaged in a landslide before the quake.
Chinese state media put the magnitude of the first earthquake at 6.5, citing the China Earthquake Networks Center. Southwest China lies where the Eurasian and Indian plates meet and is prone to earthquakes. In 1974, a 6.8-magnitude quake in the same area killed more than 1,500 people.
In September 2012, 80 people were killed when twin earthquakes struck the mountainous border area of Yunnan and Guizhou. In May 2008, an 8.0-magnitude quake rocked Sichuan, which neighbours Yunnan, killing tens of thousands of people and flattening swathes of the province.