BEIJING: At least 73 people were killed and almost 300 injured when two shalow earthquakes struck northwest China on Monday, an official told Agence France-Presse, as rescuers battled to reach survivors in the remote, mountainous area.
“More than 21,000 buildings were severely damaged and more than 1,200 have collapsed,” said the official at the earthquake bureau in Gansu province, where the 5.9 and 5.6 magnitude tremors struck.
The official said 296 people had been severely injured, adding that there have been 371 aftershocks.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the initial 5.9 magnitude quake hit at 7:45 a.m. with its epicenter 151 kilometers west of Beidao in Gansu province at a depth of just 9.8 kilometers.
A second 5.6 magnitude tremor hit the same region at 9:12 a.m. and was 10.1 kilometers deep, USGS said.
A resident of Min county told Agence France-Presse he was at work at a medicine production plant when the tremor struck and he saw tower blocks shake “ferociously.”
“I was in the workshop. I felt violent shaking and so I ran to the yard of the plant immediately,” said the man, surnamed Ma.
“Our factory is only one floor. When I came to the yard, I saw a 18-story building, the tallest in our county, shaking ferociously, especially the 18th floor.”
An official surnamed He from the Min county Communist Party committee told Agence France-Presse there were more than 200 injured in seven affected townships in the area.
While Gansu is one of China’s more sparsely populated provinces, Dingxi city, one of the worst affected areas, has a population of about 2.7 million.
A report on the 163.com Internet news portal said 500 troops, including 120 specialized rescuers were on their way to the disaster zone.
Pictures broadcast on state television showed rural villages with rubble-strewn streets.
A total of 380 buildings collapsed and thousands were damaged in Zhang county, according to an online post by the Dingxi local government.
The quake was felt in the provincial capital Lanzhou and as far away as Xian, the capital of the neighboring province of Shaanxi, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Beijing’s own China Earthquake Networks Center put the magnitude of the larger quake at 6.6, Xinhua reported.
The USGS rated it at seven on its “shakemap,” with shaking perceived to be “very strong” and the potential to cause “moderate” damage.
Weather reports also said rain was expected in the area, which could hamper rescue efforts in the mountainous region.
Disaster relief agencies have sent 500 tents and 2,000 quilts to the quake-hit region, Xinhua said.
Much of western China is prone to earthquakes.
A magnitude 6.6 earthquake in neighboring Sichuan province killed about 200 people earlier this year, five years after almost 90,000 people were killed in a huge tremor in the same province.