Beijing: A series of strong earthquakes struck a mountainous Tibetan area of western China on Wednesday, killing at least 400 people and injuring around 10,000 as houses made of mud and wood collapsed, officials said. Many more people were trapped and the toll was expected to rise.
The largest quake was recorded by the US Geological Survey (USGS) to be of magnitude 6.9.
In the aftermath, panicked people, many bleeding from their wounds, flooded the streets of a Qinghai province township, where most of the houses had been flattened. Students were reportedly buried inside several damaged schools.
Paramilitary police used shovels to dig through the rubble in the town, footage on state television showed. Officials said excavators were not available and with most of the roads leading to the nearest airport damaged, equipment and rescuers would have a hard time reaching the area. Hospitals were overwhelmed, many lacking even the most basic supplies, and doctors were in short supply.
Downed phone lines, strong winds and frequent aftershocks also hindered rescue efforts, said Wu Yong, commander of the local army garrison, who said the death toll “may rise further as lots of houses collapsed”.
Scene of devastation: Yushu region in China, where the quake was centred. At least 10,000 people are feared injured in the tremors. AP
With many people forced outside, the government said it was rushing 5,000 tents and 100,000 coats and blankets to the mountainous region, at around 13,000 feet altitude, and where night time temperatures plunge below freezing point.
The quake was centred on Yushu county, in the southern part of Qinghai, near Tibet, with a population of about 100,000, mostly herders and farmers.
USGS recorded six tremors in less than 3 hours, all but one registering 5.0 or higher. The China Earthquake Networks Center measured the largest quake’s magnitude at 7.1.
President Hu Jintao sent a vice-premier to supervise rescue efforts and more than 5,000 soldiers, medical workers and other rescuers were mobilized, joining 700 soldiers already on the ground, news agency ‘Xinhua’ said. A message of sympathy also came from the Dalai Lama.