6.6 magnitude earthquake hits China

Apr 20, 2013 12:00 AM

China was hit by its worst earthquake in three years on April 20 that killed at least 157 people and injured more than 5,700, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.

The magnitude 6.6 quake hit a remote mountainous area of southwestern China's Sichuan province at 08:02 a.m. (00:02 a.m. GMT), close to where an earthquake killed almost 70,000 people in 2008.

The quake struck in Lushan county, near the city of Ya'an, at a depth of 12 km (7.5 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was felt in the provincial capital, Chengdu, and in neighbouring provinces, causing many people to rush out of buildings, according to social network posts.

Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan. Pictures on Chinese news sites showed toppled buildings and people in bloodied bandages being treated in tents outside the hospital. Water and electricity in the area were cut off by the quake.

Premier Li Keqiang flew into the disaster zone by helicopter to voice support for the rescue operation. "The first 72 hours is the golden period for rescue," Li told officials, the Xinhua news agency reported. "We cannot delay by a minute."

"Under the strong leadership of the party and the government, as long as we unite as one, and conduct the rescue in a scientific way, then there will be the conditions and the ability to minimise the losses to the greatest degree and to overcome the disaster," Li said.

6,000 troops mobilized for rescue efforts

Xinhua said 6,000 troops were heading to the area to help with rescue efforts. State television CCTV said only emergency vehicles were being allowed into Ya'an, though Chengdu airport had reopened.

Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan, where water and electricity were cut off. Pictures on Chinese news sites showed toppled buildings and people in bloodied bandages being treated in tents outside the hospital, which appeared only lightly damaged.

Rescuers in Lushan had pulled 32 survivors out of rubble, Xinhua said. In villages closest to the epicentre, almost all low rise houses and buildings had collapsed, according to footage broadcast on state television.

"We are very busy right now, there are about eight or nine injured people, the doctors are handling the cases," said a doctor at a Ya'an hospital who gave her family name as Liu.

Landslide warning

The China Meteorological Association warned of the possibility of landslides in Lushan county on April 20 and 21.

Ya'an is a city of 1.5 million people and is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese tea culture. It is also the home to one of China's main centres for protecting the giant panda. "There are still shakes and tremors and our area is safe. The pandas are safe," said a spokesman with Ya'an's Bifengxia nature park, a tourism park that houses more than 100 pandas. Shouts and screams were heard in the background while Reuters was on the telephone with the spokesman. "There was just an aftershock, our office is safe," he said.

Numerous aftershocks jolted the area, the largest of which was magnitude 5.1. Sichuan is one of the four major natural-gas-producing provinces in China, and its output accounts for about 14 percent of the nation's total.  Sinopec Group, Asia's largest oil refiner, said its huge Puguang gas field was unaffected.

The U.S. Geological Survey initially put the magnitude at 7, but later revised it down. The devastating May 2008 quake was 7.9 magnitude.

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