China turns to home-grown tech in Sichuan quake rescue

Rescue workers helping residents evacuate from an area affected by landslides, near Moxi town in Sichuan province, on Sept 6, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Disaster relief workers have continued to evacuate tens of thousands of people from unsafe areas. PHOTO: AFP
Damaged buildings are seen in Ya'an, Sichuan province, following the 6.8-magnitude earthquake. PHOTO: REUTERS/CGTN

SHENZHEN - As the death toll climbs and rescue workers dig through rubble with their bare hands in a race against time to find more survivors of a 6.8-magnitude earthquake, they have turned to technology to boost their efforts.

Working alongside thousands of firefighters, soldiers and other emergency responders in Sichuan province are drones and satellites that can access hard-to-reach areas, deliver supplies and assess damage.

Monday's earthquake that struck Luding county has already claimed 74 lives and injured more than 250 people, a third of them seriously.

Disaster relief workers have continued to evacuate tens of thousands of people from unsafe areas such as those that could be prone to landslides.

The authorities have also been working to restore power and water supply to homes, while temporary shelters have been quickly erected to take in the evacuees. Some roads have been repaired and have reopened.

The quake, which happened about 200km from provincial capital city Chengdu, flattened hundreds of buildings as well as highways.

Rescuers have a limited window of time to look for survivors; at least 26 remained missing.

Weather forecasters have warned of the prospect of heavy rain in the region until Friday.

More than 6,500 people have been dispatched to Sichuan to help in emergency work.

Nearly 3,000 soldiers and policemen have been deployed, bringing with them drones for reconnaissance, and helicopters to airlift victims and drop supplies.

An emergency relief unmanned aerial vehicle, Wing Loong-2H, was sent to the front line to survey and provide communications support.

Developed by state-owned conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the plane was able to send real-time images of quake-stricken areas, especially in the remote mountains, and is best suited to cope with situations where power supply and network communications are disrupted.

Rescuers use a helicopter to evacuate injured people in Luding, Sichuan, on Sept 6, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Last year, when the province of Henan was hit by devastating floods, the Wing Loong-2H was dispatched to build an aerial mobile base station after electricity to many villages was cut.

Another unmanned aerial vehicle, Tengden TB-001, developed by state-backed Sichuan Tengden, was also flown in to restore communications in Luding, reported state media.

Besides drones, Chinese-made satellites were used to capture images shortly after the quake struck. More than 10 were engaged, some just minutes after the first tremors were felt, and the images used to analyse the extent of the damage.

These high-resolution earth imaging satellites are part of the Gaofen series developed under a state-sponsored earth observation programme for disaster and environmental monitoring.

The quake flattened hundreds of buildings as well as highways. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

China's big push for high-tech innovation in recent years has meant that it could build an arsenal of home-grown technology that would come in handy in times of disaster or crisis.

Its drones have also been used to fight forest fires, such as those in Sichuan last month brought on by severe drought and a record-setting heat wave.

The quake on Monday was the strongest to hit the province since 2017. The China Earthquake Networks Centre said at least 13 aftershocks of magnitude 3.0 and above had been detected as at 7am local time on Tuesday.

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