At least 127 people have been killed and hundreds of others were injured after an overnight earthquake hit northwestern China in a remote and mountainous region while many were asleep at home. The earthquake was the most deadly China has experienced in nine years.
Authorities quickly mobilised several emergency responses, but their work has been complicated as the earthquake wrecked roads and infrastructure, triggered landslides, and partly buried a village in silt. The rescue work has also proved challenging in subzero temperatures, with most of China grappling with below-freezing conditions after a powerful cold wave swept across the country.
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“The mountainous, remote, arid regions are not easy to get to, and … they are more underdeveloped and poor than the rest of China and that is reflected in the quality of the construction,” said Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reporting from Beijing, adding that the government said about 4,000 homes have been destroyed and some villages have collapsed entirely.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called for “all-out efforts” in the search and relief operations. Nearly 1,500 firefighters were deployed with another 1,500 on standby, according to state media. More than 300 officers and soldiers were also mobilised for disaster relief.
China’s state planner said it has allocated 250 million yuan ($35m) to assist Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.2, according to state news agency Xinhua. It struck at 23:59pm (15:59 GMT) on Monday in Gansu province near the border with Qinghai, causing significant damage, state media reported.
“I am 70 and I have never experienced such a powerful quake in my life,” Ma Wenchang, a resident of Dahejia, told the news outlet AFP.
“I can’t live (in this house) anymore because it’s too dangerous. My relatives have been relocated somewhere else.”
The tremor was felt as far away as Xi’an in northern Shaanxi province, about 570km (350 miles) from the epicentre near Dahejia.
State broadcaster CCTV has reported that 113 people were confirmed dead in Gansu, with an additional 536 injured. In Qinghai, CCTV reported that 14 people were killed and 198 others injured. The death toll is the highest recorded in China since 2014, when an earthquake killed 617 people and devastated southwest China’s Yunnan province.
Gansu provincial authorities previously stated that more than 4,700 houses had been damaged. Power and water supplies were also disrupted in some villages, Xinhua reported.
State television footage showed emergency vehicles driving along snow-lined highways, and rescue workers pictured shoulder to shoulder in the trucks.
Supplies including drinking water, blankets, stoves and instant noodles were also being sent to the affected area.
People living close to the epicentre rushed out onto the street as they felt the earthquake. Some buildings collapsed.
“I live on the 16th floor and felt the tremors so strongly,” a man named Qin was quoted as saying in the state-run Global Times. “The moment of the earthquake was feeling like being tossed up after surging waves … I woke my family up and we rushed down all 16 floors in one breath.”
Qin added that it was minus 12 degrees Celsius (10.4 Fahrenheit), and that while some of his neighbours had put on down jackets or wrapped themselves in blankets others were bare-chested.
Taiwan offers help
On Tuesday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen expressed condolences to China and offered her government’s help after the earthquake, despite the tensions between the two sides.
“We pray that all those affected receive the aid they need, and we hope for a swift recovery. Taiwan stands ready to offer assistance in the disaster response effort,” she added, writing in English and simplified Chinese characters, which are used in China but not Taiwan.
Problems between Taipei and Beijing, which views the democratically governed island as its own territory, have soared in the past four years, as China seeks to assert its sovereignty claims with political and military pressure.
Earthquakes are common in western provinces such as Gansu, which lie on the eastern boundary of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, a tectonically active area.
In September 2022, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit Sichuan province, killing almost 100 people.
A magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 left more than 87,000 people dead or missing, including 5,335 children who were in school at the time it happened.
At least 242,000 people were killed in 1976 after an earthquake struck Tangshan in the worst natural disaster in Chinese history.