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    Amid Rescue Efforts in Quake-Hit Gansu, a Race Against Time and Cold

    With temperatures in northwest China’s earthquake-affected region dropping to between minus 15 and minus 9 degrees Celsius, weather is one of the challenges for ongoing rescue efforts and survivors.
    Dec 19, 2023#disasters

    In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in northwest China, which has left at least 118 dead and hundreds injured, rescue teams are contending with plummeting temperatures as they work to reach survivors. 

    While the government has mobilized a large-scale rescue operation involving hundreds of personnel from multiple departments, the China Meteorological Administration reported that temperatures in the earthquake-affected region dropped to between minus 15 and minus 9 degrees Celsius in the early hours of Tuesday. 

    However, the forecast for the next 10 days anticipates mainly sunny or cloudy weather with no precipitation. 

    Wang Duo, an official from a civilian rescue team, told China Newsweek that the cold posed the biggest challenge to rescuers. He added that the temperature varies significantly in northwest China during winter, with lows dipping below minus 10 degrees Celsius, placing those trapped in high risk.

    Speaking to Sixth Tone, Hao Nan, head of Zhuoming Information Aid, a social organization that helps manage information during natural disasters, stated that in such extreme conditions, the human body loses heat rapidly, significantly shortening the crucial 72-hour window typically available for rescue operations following a disaster. 

    Authorities have activated a Level II emergency response specifically for meteorological services in light of the disaster. This heightened alert includes warnings about high wind speeds affecting several highways in the vicinity, which could impede the transportation of crucial rescue supplies. 

    Aerial footage from the National Fire and Rescue Administration near the earthquake’s epicenter in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu, showed extensive destruction. Drone-captured video footage showed homes with collapsed roofs and walls, and bricks strewn on the ground. 

    On social media, videos showed teachers and students at a local middle school in Jishishan County gathering in the playground for safety. To combat the cold, they wrapped themselves in quilts and lit fires using books and branches.

    The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported how a local hospital was being used as a temporary relief site. The inpatient building of this hospital suffered significant structural damage, with severe cracks. Improvising, medics transported supplies from warehouses and constructed makeshift beds on the roadside to provide urgent treatment to the injured. 

    One medical worker, whose own family’s seven houses had collapsed in the quake, resorted to inserting frozen saltwater bottles into bedding as a means of thawing them for use.

    Quoting a member of staff working with a relief coordination team, the Beijing Youth Daily emphasized the urgent need in the earthquake-affected areas for supplies essential for survival in the harsh winter conditions. In particular demand are items such as generators, long cotton coats, safe stove fuel, and food. Moreover, cotton tents are critically needed to provide shelter through the cold nights.

    According to the Gansu Provincial Meteorological Administration, the average temperature in the quake zone over the past three years has been minus 7.6 degrees Celsius in late December, with the lowest recorded temperature plunging to minus 17.9 degrees Celsius. 

    Editor: Apurva. 

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