Thousands left without shelter after earthquakes hit China
A SERIES of earthquakes in a remote mountainous area in southwestern China killed at least 64 people yesterday, triggering landslides that hampered rescue efforts and disrupted the communications network.
More than 700 people were injured and almost 30,000 homes were destroyed across several counties, authorities said, while more than 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes.
With some roads impassable, rescuers had yet to reach some villages and towns by last night, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The original tremor, with a 5.6-magnitude, struck shortly before 11:30am along the borders of Guizhou and Yunnan provinces.
It was followed by another large quake shortly before noon and more than 60 aftershocks, seismologists said. Though they were of moderate strength, the quakes were shallow, which often causes more damage.
The hardest hit area was Yiliang County, where all but one of the deaths occurred and another 715 people were injured, according to the Yunnan provincial government.
Yiliang county’s high population density, weak building construction, and propensity for landslides were blamed for the high death toll.
China Central Television showed roads littered with rocks and boulders, and pillars of dust rising over hillcrests – signs of landslides. Footage showed around 200 people crowding into what looked like a playing field in Yiliang’s county seat, a sizeable city spread along a river in a valley bottom.
Though earthquakes in the area occur fairly frequently, buildings in rural areas and China’s fast-growing smaller cities and towns are often poorly constructed and more vulnerable to damage.
In 2008, a magnitude-7.9 quake that hit Sichuan province, just north of Yunnan, killed nearly 90,000 people, with many of the deaths blamed on poorly built structures, including schools.
In Luozehe, a town in Yiliang near a zinc mine, residents and state media said yesterday that boulders hurtled off hillsides and houses collapsed.
“It is scary. My brother was killed by falling rocks. The aftershocks struck again and again. We are so afraid,” miner Peng Zhuwen told state media.
Wu Xuhong, a goat herder in Luozhe, said only tiles fell from his relatively solid cement and brick sheds.
“But I heard that a lot of buildings built of clay and wood collapsed and we temporarily lost power and mobile phone signals,” he added.
Red Cross spokesman for East Asia, Francis Markus, said 2,000 quilts, 2,000 jackets and 500 tents were being rushed to the area, one of China’s poorest, which is largely inhabited by members of the Yi ethnic minority.
He said the use of light construction materials would likely create far more injuries than deaths.
A government official in Jiaokui town said a large number of houses had collapsed.
“The casualty number is still being compiled. I don’t know what it was like for the other towns, but my town got hit badly,” he said. Like many Chinese officials, he declined to give his name.
Mobile phone services were down and regular phone lines disrupted.
Phones were cut off to clinics in four villages in Qiaoshan, another town in Yiliang, which has about half a million people.
Authorities sent thousands of tents, blankets and coats to the area, Xinhua said.
It said that so far no casualties had been reported in neighbouring Guizhou, but that homes had been damaged or destroyed there.