BEIJING - The death toll from the strongest earthquake to hit China's south-western Sichuan province since 2017 rose to 65 on Tuesday as rescuers rushed to reach hundreds of stranded people, restore utilities and send emergency relief.
Nearly 250 people were being treated for injuries from the disaster, with dozens critically wounded, according to Chinese state media.
Video from state broadcaster CCTV showed firefighters pulling a bruised and bloodied woman from the rubble and carrying a survivor on a stretcher across a river on a makeshift bridge, as well as damaged buildings and streets strewn with fallen masonry.
Rescuers are also working on evacuating over 200 people stranded in the quake zone, restoring telecommunications services, and power and water utilities, as well as delivering food supply to residents affected by the magnitude-6.8 temblor, state media reported.
The powerful earthquake struck Sichuan after midday on Monday, with the epicentre deep in the province's mountainous interior in the west.
Footage shared by the China Earthquake Networks Centre on Monday showed boulders thundering down mountainsides in Luding county, the epicentre of the quake, kicking up clouds of dust as the tremors swayed roadside telephone wires.
At least one town suffered severe damage from landslides triggered by the quake, CCTV reported.
“Before 5 o’clock, I heard a rumbling sound. The house shook so badly that I woke up immediately,” one woman surnamed Zheng from Sichuan’s Lu county told Beijing News.
“My brother’s house collapsed. His house is an old one built more than 10 years ago. My house is newly built, so the situation is better.”
The quake also rocked buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu – where millions are confined to their homes under a strict Covid-19 lockdown – and in the nearby megacity of Chongqing, residents told AFP.
The quake was felt as far away as the provinces of Shaanxi and Guizhou, hundreds of kilometres away.
On Tuesday, state television reported that over 200 people were still stranded in Hailuogou, a popular tourist spot known for its glaciers, verdant forests and soaring peaks. Rescuers were still working to reopen blocked roads to reach them.
In Luding, power and water infrastructure and telecommunications were severely damaged, according to state television.
It also reported that 243 houses had collapsed and 13,010 had been damaged. Four hotels and hundreds of home-stays were also affected.
The quake cut power to several towns, while various highways collapsed and seven small to-mid-sized hydropower stations suffered damage.
With heavy rain expected over the next three days, experts on Tuesday flagged risks from a number of dammed lakes that have formed after the quake.
The authorities were considering flying drones to inspect the situation upstream of Wandong River, the main tributary of Dadu River.
President Xi Jinping has urged all-out relief efforts to prioritise saving lives and minimising casualties, the state-run Global Times reported on Monday.
More than 6,500 rescue workers including firefighters and armed police have been deployed. Four helicopters and two drones have also been sent, according to media reports.
So far, more than 50,000 affected residents have been relocated, said Global Times, quoting the Sichuan authorities.
Financial support of 150 million yuan (S$30 million) has been deployed by the authorities to support the rescue and relief efforts in disaster-hit regions in Sichuan.
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.
Monday's quake was Sichuan's biggest since August 2017, when one of magnitude 7.0 hit the Aba prefecture north of Luding.
In recent decades, the most devastating earthquake in Sichuan - and China - was in 2008, when a magnitude 8.0 temblor centred in Wenchuan killed nearly 70,000 people. REUTERS, AFP