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Rescuers begin gathering bodies after earthquake hits China

August 9, 2017 4:45 AM
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Rescuers begin gathering bodies after earthquake hits China

BEIJING - Rescuers picked away rubble from around a body in an area shaken by a powerful earthquake in mountainous southwestern China, then stood silently in a row, with helmets off and heads bowed to pay their respects.

Tuesday night's magnitude 6.5 quake killed at least 13 people and injured 175, authorities said Wednesday. It also knocked out power and phone networks, complicating efforts to locate and evacuate survivors.

State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage of orange-suited rescuers finding the body and using detectors to search for survivors in the dark of night, carrying a girl to safety and leading other people along a rubble-strewn road.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for rapid efforts to respond to the disaster, which struck a quake-prone region bordered by Sichuan and Gansu provinces at around 9:20 p.m. Tuesday. The area is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and home to many Tibetan and other ethnic minority villages. It's also near Jiuzhaigou, or Jiuzhai Valley, a national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations that attracts visitors from China and overseas.

Among the injured, 28 were listed in serious condition on Wednesday morning, according to the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture government in Sichuan.

At least five of the dead were tourists, China's official Xinhua News Agency said.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 6.5, striking at the shallow depth of just 9 kilometres (5.5 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones. The China Earthquake Networks Center said the quake had at magnitude of 7.0 and a depth of 20 kilometres (12 miles).

It's not unusual for magnitude and depth readings to vary due to different technologies in use and the timing and distance from where quakes are measured.

A man surnamed Song who answered the phone at a local emergency office in Aba prefecture, where Jiuzhaigou National Park is located, said the nearby town of Zhangzha reported the deaths and injuries. Song did not say where the five tourists who died were from or give other details.

The earthquake's epicenter was about 39 kilometres (24 miles) from the county seat of Jiuzhaigou, which has a population of around 80,000, and was 285 kilometres (177 miles) from Chengdu, Sichuan's densely populated provincial capital, according to the Chinese quake centre.

Xinhua said strong tremors could be felt in Chengdu and other cities in the area. Train services to Chengdu and other cities were partially suspended following the quake.

Jiuzhaigou county lost electricity following the quake, Song said. Local officials were being sent to the town of Zhangzha, which was closest to the epicenter.

"The tremors were very strong," said a woman reached by telephone in Jiuzhaigou's town centre, who gave only her surname, Wang, and said she worked for a travel company. She said that other than the loss of power, damage in the town centre appeared minimal.

Xinhua said more than 30,000 tourists visiting Jiuzhaigou were relocated to safer accommodations by tourist bus and private vehicle.

Yu Qian, a local taxation bureau official, told Xinhua that she and her two children rushed out from their fifth-floor apartment after feeling strong tremors. Yu said the quake cut off power in her neighbourhood and disrupted telephone service.

Xinhua cited a worker at Jiuzhaigou National Park named Sangey as saying that some houses in the area collapsed or developed cracks and that authorities were working to evacuate residents.

Images on Chinese social media sites showed rocks scattered on roads and people running out of bars and cafes in Jiuzhaigou town.

On Wednesday morning, another strong earthquake struck in far northwestern China, some 2,200 kilometres from Jiuzhaigou, injuring three villagers whose home collapsed, Xinhua reported.

That quake was measured at magnitude 6.3 by the USGS and 6.6 by China's agency and struck in a sparsely populated area of the Xinjiang region near the Kazakhstan border.

Earthquakes are common in China's west, although casualties are generally low because of the sparse population density. China's deadliest earthquake this century, a magnitude 7.9 temblor in May 2008, struck the same mountainous prefecture as Tuesday's quake, killing nearly 90,000 people.


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