Death toll rises in Sichuan quake; tens of thousands evacuated

Rescuers helping to evacuate villagers in Luding, Sichuan, on Sept 5, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Damaged houses are seen in Moxi town, in Luding county, following the earthquake. PHOTO: XINHUA
Rescuers searching for people trapped in debris in Moxi town, in Luding county, on Sept 5, 2022. PHOTO: XINHUA
Firefighters carrying quake victims to safety in Luding county on Sept 5, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHENZHEN – Thousands of rescuers are continuing search and recovery efforts in the south-west province of Sichuan after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the mountainous region on Monday, killing 66 people.

More than 250 people have been injured, a third of them seriously, while 15 are reported to be still missing.

Rescuers have been working around the clock to find survivors, especially in remote villages in Luding county, the epicentre of the quake. 

More than 50,000 people in the county, which has a population of about 86,000, and the neighbouring Shimian county have been evacuated, the authorities said on Tuesday.

The earthquake flattened more than 200 houses and damaged at least 13,000 more, while several highways also collapsed, reported state media.

Power and water supplies were also cut in numerous towns and villages, while landslides have hampered rescue efforts, with thousands of villagers stranded as a result.

Videos on social media showed firefighters stretchering the injured and carrying villagers on their backs while traversing rocky and slippery mountain terrain. Some people had to be evacuated with lifeboats.

Rescuers erected makeshift bridges using tree trunks across swollen, raging rivers; some were seen scaling steep rock faces to get to remote villages after landslides buried roads and paths.

The Meteorological Administration warned of significant rainfall in the stricken areas over the next four days, which could trigger landslides and set back rescue work.

Monday’s quake was the strongest in Sichuan since a 7-magnitude earthquake struck Jiuzhaigou county in 2017. Tremors rippled hundreds of kilometres to neighbouring

Shaanxi and Guizhou provinces, with aftershocks also recorded in the region.

Rescuers helping to evacuate villagers in Luding, Sichuan, on Sept 5, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

President Xi Jinping ordered an all-out effort to save lives, while Taiwan, which has faced mounting military pressure from China lately, has offered to help with the search and rescue efforts.

Its fire agency said a team of 40 with a search dog and five tonnes of equipment are on standby and can be deployed immediately. In 2008, it dispatched a humanitarian team after a devastating quake rocked Wenchuan county in Sichuan, killing almost 70,000 people.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday expressed condolences to the victims and their families, saying she hopes search and rescue efforts can be carried out smoothly.

Quake-prone Sichuan has experienced a particularly tough year. A record-setting heat wave saw temperatures soaring past 40 deg C, power shortages brought on by a severe drought, and a Covid-19 outbreak that has sent 21.2 million in capital Chengdu into lockdown.

Some residents took to social media to complain that they had tried to leave their homes during the tremors, only to find their buildings padlocked. 

A video showed a district worker going around a residential compound with a loudhailer ordering people to stay indoors. “It is only a very small earthquake, and it is a one-off. It is Covid-19 we need to focus on,” he said.

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