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    118 Killed in Northwest China After 6.2 Magnitude Earthquake

    While the government has upgraded the earthquake emergency response to Level II, financial aid and emergency supplies and teams have been mobilized to assist the affected communities and brace for potential aftershocks.
    Dec 19, 2023#disasters

    At least 118 people have been killed and almost 400 injured after a devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck northwest China’s Gansu province late Monday, prompting a large-scale rescue operation involving hundreds of personnel and specialized equipment.

    The China Earthquake Networks Center reported that the earthquake occurred at 11:59 p.m. Monday, with a focal depth of 10 kilometers. Its epicenter was near Liugou Township, about 8 kilometers from the Jishishan Bao’an, Dongxiang, Sala Autonomous County in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture. 

    Eyewitnesses told domestic media that the earthquake caused significant damage to almost 5,000 houses, roads, and other infrastructure. Power outages and disruptions to water supply were reported in several villages. 

    Speaking to the Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper, a student surnamed Gao from the Gansu Agricultural University in Lanzhou described the harrowing experience. “When the earthquake first started, the dormitory shook very strongly,” Gao recalled. 

    “Just after midnight, the shaking intensified, especially on the eighth floor, and we rushed downstairs. We felt two more quakes in quick succession ... With the cold weather, some people weren’t dressed warmly enough and had to go back up to change before standing outside.”

    According to the local meteorological department, temperatures in the area are expected to plunge to minus 10 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, adding challenges to the rescue operations.

    Seismological experts identified the earthquake as a thrust-type rupture, and as of 4 a.m. Tuesday, nine aftershocks at or above 3.0 on the Richter scale had been recorded. Tremors were also felt in the neighboring Qinghai province, according to local earthquake relief headquarters.

    While multiple rescue teams, including provincial rescue departments, the People’s Liberation Army, and the Armed Police Force, arrived at the earthquake area early Tuesday morning, officials warned of more tremors. “There is still the possibility of strong aftershocks of magnitude 5 in the earthquake zone in the next few days,” Gao Xiaoming, the deputy director of the Gansu Provincial Seismological Bureau, said at a press conference Tuesday. 

    According to Gao, seven earthquakes of magnitude 5 or above have been recorded within a 100-kilometer radius of Monday night’s quake since 1900. The most recent of these occurred in Xiahe County on Oct. 28, 2019, and registered a magnitude of 5.7. 

    On Tuesday morning, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for exhaustive search and rescue operations and proper care for those affected, prioritizing the safety of lives and property. The State Council has sent a working group to the stricken regions to help guide relief work.

    According to the state broadcaster CCTV, the government has allocated 200 million yuan ($31 million) from central natural disaster relief funds to Gansu and the neighboring Qinghai province. 

    Meanwhile, rescue supplies have begun reaching the earthquake-affected areas. Gansu authorities reported dispatching the initial batch of emergency supplies to assist victims in coping with the harsh weather conditions. This aid includes 2,600 cotton tents, 10,400 folding beds, 10,400 cotton mattresses and quilts, and 1,000 stove sets.

    Chen Huizhong, a seismological expert, told The Paper that several factors contributed to the devastating impact of this earthquake. They include the earthquake’s relatively shallow focal depth, its occurrence near midnight when many were likely at home, and the local buildings’ limited earthquake resistance.

    Another earthquake, measuring 5.5 in magnitude, struck the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region at 9:46 a.m. Tuesday, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center. So far, no casualties have been reported in this incident.

    Chen clarified that the earthquake in Xinjiang is unrelated to the one in Gansu. He explained that the two areas are geographically distant from each other and not within the same structural zone, ruling out a direct connection between the two seismic events.

    Additional reporting: Zhu Junxi; editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: Rescue Workers at Jishishan County, Gansu province, Dec. 19, 2023. Xinhua)