BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) – The death toll from two strong earthquakes in China rose to 12 on Tuesday (June 18), with 134 people injured, state media said, as rescuers pulled bodies and survivors from wrecked buildings in a part of the country that often suffers strong tremors.
The quakes, roughly 30 minutes apart, hit the southwestern province of Sichuan late on Monday, with shaking felt in key regional cities, such as the provincial capital of Chengdu and the metropolis of Chongqing.
A quake of magnitude 5.9 was followed by a smaller one of 5.2 magnitude, both at a depth of 10km and centred near Changning county, the United States Geological Survey said.
More than 4,000 people were relocated as dozens of structures were damaged or collapsed outside Yibin in Sichuan province, according to the city government.
There were several aftershocks, the China Earthquake Administration said, while the US quake agency recorded one of magnitude 5.2 on Tuesday.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of rescuers bringing a survivor out of the rubble of a building on a stretcher overnight. Other images showed a woman being helped out of another collapsed structure.
Images from Changning County showed an electricity pole knocked down on the roof of a building, a hole in a brick home and broken windows on the street.
Cracks appeared in several highways and a major highway connecting Yibin and Xuyong County was closed, according to Xinhua news agency, which also reported that a hotel close to the epicentre collapsed, but there was no immediate word of any casualties.
People rushed into the streets and cracks were left in some buildings by the quakes, pictures posted on the social media accounts of state media showed.
An early warning alarm system was triggered in the provincial capital Chengdu about one minute before the earthquake struck, Xinhua said. The alert rang 10 seconds before it hit Yibin. A three-second headstart before an earthquake strikes can prevent 14 per cent of casualties, Xinhua said.
Nine people died in Changning County and three others in Qixian County, the Yibin city government said in its Twitter-like Weibo account, up from an initial death toll of six overnight.
Rescuers pulled six bodies and seven survivors from buildings, it said. Xinhua said more than 50 people were being treated in two hospitals.
More than 500 firefighters have been dispatched to the scene. Rescue personnel were also sent with 5,000 tents, 10,000 folding cots and other emergency supplies, Xinhua reported.
Earthquakes regularly strike Sichuan, where a powerful 7.9-magnitude quake left 87,000 people dead or missing in 2008.
In February, three earthquakes hit Rongxian county in the province, killing two people and injuring 12 others – casualties that residents blamed on fracking.
Local authorities later halted shale gas mining after thousands of residents protested.