6.9-magnitude temblor topples homes in mountainous region near Tibet
A series of strong earthquakes struck a far western Tibetan area of China on Wednesday, killing at least 400 people and injuring thousands as houses made of mud and wood collapsed, trapping many more, officials said.
State television channel, CCTV, quoted an emergency official, Pubucairen, as saying that the number of injured was believed to be more than 10,000.
The main temblor of magnitude-6.9 struck in southern Qinghai province, near Tibet, on Wednesday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The USGS recorded six temblors in less than three hours, all but one registered 5.0 or higher.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported that a number of school buildings had collapsed, citing witness reports that some students had been killed and others were trapped in the rubble.
Workers were racing to release water from a reservoir in the disaster area where a crack had formed after the quake to prevent a flood, according to the China Earthquake Administration.
The quake was centered on Yushu county, a Tibetan area in Qinghai’s south, with a population of about 100,000, mostly herders and farmers.
The main quake sent residents fleeing as it toppled houses made of mud and wood, said Karsum Nyima, the Yushu county television station’s deputy head of news, speaking by phone with broadcaster CCTV.
“In a flash, the houses went down. It was a terrible earthquake,” he said. “In a small park, there is a Buddhist pagoda and the top of the pagoda fell off. … Everybody is out on the streets, standing in front of their houses, trying to find their family members.”
The earthquake comes a little less than two years after a magnitude-7.9 quake in neighboring Sichuan province left almost 90,000 people dead or missing. That quake flattened several schools, killing thousands of students. Poor design, shoddy construction and the lax enforcement of building codes were found to be rampant, causing public anger.
Students dead, others trapped
Xinhua reported that the early morning quake had caused some schools and part of a government office building to cave in.
Zhu Liang, a driver at the Yushu prefecture government, told Xinhua that half of the Yushu Vocational School’s buildings had collapsed.
“I do not know how many students have died,” Zhu, who is now in the rescue operation, told the news service. “Students just got up and were yet to go to class when the quake happened. I recovered several bodies from the debris and found they were fully dressed.”
“Buildings in our school were all toppled, and five pupils have died,” said a teacher surnamed Chang at the Yushu Primary School, a boarding school with about 1,000 students. “Morning sessions did not begin when the quake happened. Some pupils ran out of dorms alive, and those who had not escaped in time were buried.”
Xinhua added that residents said most students had been able to flee to playgrounds.
“Most of the schools in Yushu were built fairly recently and should have been able to withstand the earthquake,” said Wang Liling, a volunteer worker for Gesanghua, a Chinese charity that helps school children in Qinghai.
Her group, she said, had heard that a vocational school collapsed in Yushu. “Many homes have been damaged, but we’ll have to wait until this evening, when our staff arrive there, to understand anything specific.”
Samdrup Gyatso, 17, who ran a shop in his two-story house in Gyegu, told Xinhua: “There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble.”
‘Thronged with panic’
In Jiegu, a township near the epicenter, more than 85 percent of houses had collapsed, while large cracks have appeared on buildings still standing, Xinhua cited Zhuohuaxia, a local publicity official, as saying.
“The streets in Jiegu are thronged with panic and full of injured people, with many of them bleeding from their injuries,” he told Xinhua. “Many students are buried under the debris due to building collapse at a vocational school.”
“A large crack appears in the wall of the Yushu Hotel, and part of a government office building also collapsed,” he added. “I can see injured people everywhere. The biggest problem now is that we lack tents, we lack medical equipment, medicine and medical workers.”
State television Wednesday showed footage of paramilitary police using shovels to dig around a house with a collapsed wooden roof.
A local military official, Shi Huajie, told CCTV that rescuers were working with limited equipment.
“The difficulty we face is that we don’t have any excavators. Many of the people have been buried and our soldiers are trying to pull them out with human labor,” Shi said.
“It is very difficult to save people with our bare hands.”
Officials said excavators were not available and, with most of the roads leading to the nearest airport damaged, equipment and rescuers would have a hard time reaching the area.
Downed phone lines, strong winds and frequent aftershocks were also hindering rescue efforts, said Wu Yong, a local military chief.