More than 40 killed as China’s Sichuan is hit by strongest earthquake since 2017

Cliff rocks seen on a road near Lengqi town, in Sichuan province, on Sept 5, 2022. PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING - At least 46 people were killed when a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck south-western China’s Sichuan province on Monday, the strongest to hit the area since 2017, shaking the provincial capital of Chengdu and other provinces.

As of 8.30pm on Monday, 16 people were missing and over 50 injured, said Wang Feng, deputy director of the Sichuan provincial emergency management department.

The epicentre was at Luding, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said, a county in the mountains about 226km south-west of Chengdu.

Among the dead, 29 were from Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture which administers Luding county, and the other 17 were from Ya’an City. Over 50,000 people in Ganzi and Ya’an have been evacuated to safety.

Some roads and homes near the epicentre were damaged by landslides, while communications were down in at least one area, according to state television. No damage at dams and hydropower stations within 50km of the epicentre has been reported.

Sichuan has activated the highest level of emergency response for the earthquake. As of 6pm on Monday, the province had deployed over 6,500 rescuers, four helicopters and two unmanned aerial vehicles to the frontline.

“There were many aftershocks, and some roads were blocked. We had to climb over the debris to get to the town square of Moxi,” said a rescuer from the provincial forest fire brigade. Moxi is a town in Luding county. 

Ms Liu Fang, a local official, said that after the earthquake, she and other colleagues immediately evacuated the residents to the square about several hundred metres away.

A local special police rescue team has rescued more than 30 trapped people.

Earthquakes are common in Sichuan, especially in its mountains in the west, a tectonically active area along the eastern boundary of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.

Ms Laura Luo, who lives in Chengdu, a city of about 21 million people, was on her way back to her apartment block when she saw people in her neighbourhood rushing out of their high-rise homes in panic after getting earthquake warnings on their phones.

“There were many people who were so terrified they started crying,” the international PR consultant told Reuters.

When the shaking began, “all the dogs started barking. It was really quite scary”.

The aftermath of a 6.6-magnitude earthquake in Hailuogou, Sichuan province on Sept 5, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

“The shaking was quite strong and it lasted for a while,” said Ms Shirley Li, who lives on the 30th floor of an apartment block in Chengdu, which is under a Covid-19 lockdown.

“It’s been a hard time for us – heatwaves, the Covid lockdown and now the earthquake.”

Ms Samantha Yang, 23, another Chengdu resident and recent university graduate, said she had just finished lunch and was in bed about to take a nap when she felt the quake.

“The building kept shaking, each time more severely than before,” she said. “Truly, this was the scariest one since the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.”

In Luding, the quake was so strong it was hard for some people to remain standing, while cracks appeared on some houses, according to state media China News Service. An aftershock of magnitude of 4.2 struck the city of Ya'an, about 100km south-west of Chengdu, minutes later.

Video clips posted on social media showed lights swinging while people rushed out of buildings into the streets.

A total of 39,000 people live within a 20km radius of the epicentre and 1.55 million within a 100km radius, according to state television.

The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Emergency Management have earmarked 50 million yuan (S$10 million) to support rescue and relief work. The provincial government also allocated 50 million yuan to Ganzi.

Relief supplies, including some 3,000 tents and 10,000 folding beds, were allocated to Luding county.

The quake was Sichuan’s biggest since August 2017, when one of magnitude 7.0 hit Aba prefecture.

The most powerful Sichuan earthquake on record was in May 2008, when a magnitude 8.0 quake centred on Wenchuan killed almost 70,000 people and caused extensive damage.

Monday’s quake was felt as far away as Changsha in Hunan province and Xi'an in Shaanxi province hundreds of kilometres away, according to social media posts. REUTERS, XINHUA

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