BEIJING • A strong earthquake hit a rural part of China's western Xinjiang region yesterday, killing at least six people, injuring dozens and destroying or damaging thousands of homes, the government and state media said.
The shallow 6.4-magnitude quake struck at 9.07am, about 160km north-west of the southern city of Hotan.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs said at least 3,000 homes either collapsed or were seriously damaged in the mainly ethnic Uighur region.
A series of aftershocks followed, with the strongest measuring 4.8, said the US Geological Survey.
State news agency Xinhua reported that 48 people had been injured and cited officials saying that an airport in Hotan had been closed.
"If many people are gathered in one place during an earthquake, it can lead to a serious disaster. But in this case, there were relatively few people, so it is not so serious," said China Earthquake Networks Centre researcher Sun Shihong
Mr Li Hua, a worker at a state-owned farm in Pishan, which has a population of 258,000, mainly Uighurs, told Xinhua that he felt the quake strongly, with his fourth-floor apartment shaking for about a minute. "I felt dizzy," he was quoted as saying.
State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage of items falling off shelves in a supermarket when the quake struck, and cracked walls at a fire station.
The Chinese authorities said they have initiated a grade-4 response, the lowest in its emergency response system.
It means that there will be a 24-hour alert and relief materials will be sent within 48 hours.
More than 500 soldiers and militia members have been dispatched. They will search for victims in the quake, along with a 22-member medical team.
The Chinese government is also sending 1,000 tents and other disaster relief materials.
Xinjiang, which is strategically located on the borders of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, is one of China's most politically sensitive regions following years of violence blamed by the government on Islamist militants.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the Chinese government's repressive policies, and religious and cultural restrictions, have provoked unrest, an accusation the government denies.
China is regularly hit by earthquakes, particularly in the south-western provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.
In May 2008, a 7.9-magnitude quake rocked Sichuan, killing more than 80,000 people and flattening swathes of the province in China's worst earthquake in more than three decades.
Last October, hundreds of people were injured and more than 100,000 displaced after a shallow 6.0-magnitude quake hit Yunnan province. And last August, a 6.1-magnitude quake struck Yunnan, killing more than 600 people.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA