Rescuers in remote villages of north-west China dug through the rubble of collapsed homes on Monday after the country’s deadliest earthquake in years killed at least 126 people and injured hundreds more.
State media said the shallow tremor just before midnight had caused the deaths of at least 113 and injured more than 530 in impoverished Gansu province, as of Tuesday afternoon.
A further 13 died, 182 were injured and 20 were missing in Haidong in neighbouring Qinghai province, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The quake damaged more than 155 000 buildings, according to CCTV, and sent residents running into the freezing streets for safety. At a village near the epicentre, reporters saw huge cracks running through the exterior and interior walls of a brick home, and the roof of a building that had caved in completely.
“I am 70 and I have never experienced such a powerful quake in my life,” resident Ma Wenchang said. “I can’t live (in this house) any more because it’s too dangerous. My relatives have been relocated somewhere else.”
At another location, the top of a mosque had collapsed askew, and another building was reduced to mere rubble.
The roads were full of emergency and military vehicles, and the AFP team saw trucks covered in red banners reading “earthquake relief supplies”.
The quake was China’s deadliest since 2014, when more than 600 people died in south-western Yunnan province.
China’s western hinterland carries the scars of frequent seismic activity, and a huge quake in Sichuan province in 2008 left more than 87 000 people dead or missing, including 5 335 schoolchildren.
The US Geological Survey said Monday night’s magnitude-5.9 quake struck at a shallow depth with an epicentre about 100km from Gansu’s provincial capital, Lanzhou. China’s state news agency Xinhua reported the magnitude as 6.2 and said the shaking was felt as far away as the major city of Xi’an, about 570km away.
Dozens of smaller aftershocks followed, and officials warned that tremors with a magnitude of more than 5.0 were possible in the next few days. A quake measured at magnitude 5.2 by USGS was detected further north-west in the Xinjiang region on Tuesday morning.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “all-out efforts” as search and rescue work got under way on Tuesday.
Temperatures are below freezing in the high-altitude area, and rescuers should be on guard for secondary disasters, he said, according to CCTV.
State media reported that power and water supplies were disrupted in villages around the epicentre but that some electricity had later been restored. Hundreds of people have been evacuated in Gansu, officials said.
Thousands of firefighters and rescue personnel have been sent to the disaster zone, and state media said 2 500 tents, 20 000 coats and 5 000 rollaway beds had been sent to Gansu.
CCTV added that the central government had preliminarily diverted $28m (R513m) in relief funding to “guarantee the security of people’s lives and property, and minimise the impact of losses from the disaster”.
Rescue workers in overalls were shoulder-to-shoulder in the trucks. Emergency personnel went through debris by torchlight, unfolding orange stretchers for the casualties.
Earthquakes are not uncommon in China. In August, a shallow 5.4-magnitude tremor struck the eastern part of the country, injuring 23 people and collapsing dozens of buildings.
In September 2022, a 6.6-magnitude quake hit Sichuan province, leaving almost 100 dead. And in 2010, a 6.9-magnitude quake in Qinghai left 3 000 people dead or missing.