Nearly 50 dead in China after a magnitude 6.6 earthquake

BEIJING: At least 46 dead, roads blocked and homes « severely damaged »: a powerful earthquake hit a mountainous area in southwestern China on Monday, mobilizing thousands of rescue workers, state media said.

The tremor was recorded at 12:52 p.m. local time (4:52 a.m. GMT) in Sichuan province, said the United States Geological Survey (USGS) – the world’s leading organization for earthquakes.

The epicenter is 39 kilometers from Luding County, according to Chinese state television CCTV, in an area that is not very densely populated.

The latest provisional toll, revised upwards in the evening, now reports at least 46 dead, according to national television, which also mentions 16 missing and 50 injured.

The previous assessment reported « more than 30 dead ».

The tremor was also felt some 200 kilometers from the epicenter, in the provincial capital Chengdu, whose 21 million inhabitants are currently confined to their homes due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

She was « relatively strong, » a Chengdu resident who declined to give her full name, Ms. Chen, told AFP.

“Some of my downstairs neighbors said they felt it very clearly,” she added.

But as the city is confined « people are not allowed to leave their residential compounds », she stressed.

Damaged houses

Authorities did not report any damage in the provincial capital. Chengdu had extended the confinement of its inhabitants on Sunday after the discovery in recent days of hundreds of new positive cases of the coronavirus.

Video released by the agency showed chandeliers swinging from the ceiling and sections of concrete buildings falling to the ground.

CCTV for its part showed images of firefighters in orange outfits clearing fallen rocks on a road and of a blue sedan with its windshield smashed by a huge rock.

Faced with a toll that could still increase, Chinese President Xi Jinping called « to do everything to come to the aid of those affected by the disaster and minimize the human losses », reported China news.

Near the epicenter, the city of Ya’an speaks of « damage at various levels » in the affected areas.

« Houses were seriously damaged » and « telecommunications were cut » in some places near the epicenter, for its part indicated the neighboring prefecture of Garze, where 29 victims were counted.

More than 1,000 soldiers and army officers are mobilized, according to the Sichuan Seismological Bureau, which released images of its engineers equipped with laptops going to the scene.

According to CCTV, the local authorities have also dispatched several thousand rescuers, firefighters, doctors or members of the People’s Armed Police – gendarmes responsible for public security and mobilized during disasters.

Blankets and folding beds

Authorities have transported thousands of tents, blankets and folding beds to the affected areas to help people whose homes have been damaged, CCTV reported.

Video released by the China Seismic Network Center shows boulders rolling down a hill in Luding Township and kicking up clouds of dust, with telephone lines flickering from the tremors.

The Center reported several aftershocks of lesser intensity after the first earthquake.

Sichuan, very mountainous, is known worldwide for its reserves of giant pandas. The province is regularly hit by earthquakes.

In June, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake had already shaken this region, killing at least four people and injuring dozens.

In May 2008, a very powerful earthquake, of magnitude 7.9, left 87,000 dead or missing in Sichuan. The disaster was a national shock.

Among the victims were thousands of students killed in the collapse of precariously constructed schools. Police at the time arrested activists who were trying to count the precise number of children who died in the disaster.

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