89 dead after earthquake strikes Gansu counties

More than 500 are injured and 20 per cent of homes are in ruins as towns struggle to cope with fallout amid hundreds of aftershocks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 11:31am

At least 89 people were killed and hundreds were injured when a powerful earthquake struck near Min and Zhang counties in Dingxi, Gansu, yesterday morning.

The 6.6-magnitude quake struck at 7.45am at a depth of 20 kilometres, says the China Earthquake Networks Centre. At least 628 people were reported injured and five missing.

Aftershocks followed, and 422 had been recorded by 6pm, the strongest being 5.6.

On Tuesday, rescuers battled through dusty rubble to reach quake victims. State broadcaster CCTV showed images of soldiers digging through earth and sand to reach simple houses buried under landslides in the northwestern province.

Seriously injured patients wrapped in blankets were put into helicopters heading to the provincial capital Lanzhou, which has the nearest major hospital.

Video: Deadly earthquake in Gansu, China

About 20 per cent of all homes collapsed in the epicentre, Min's Dacaotan township, and 60 per cent of the remaining homes suffered damage such as cracks. Economic losses in Zhang were estimated at 190 million yuan (HK$238 million).

Liu Huibin, who lives in Min, said "loud noises of rocks rolling underground" were heard before the quake. "The house rocked for more than a minute, and it was so strong that I felt dizzy and nauseous," he said.

A security camera in a Min canteen showed the building shaking, and one man could be seen fleeing before the ceiling collapsed.

The quake was felt in nearby cities and provinces. Internet users in Shaanxi uploaded videos of swaying lights and clothes hangers.

Liu said people stayed in the streets after the quake, fearing to go back indoors, and the county's hospital of traditional Chinese medicine was full of victims, most of them hit by falling objects in their homes.

Communications were reportedly down for about an hour in the areas heaviest hit. Many residents also lost power, but emergency workers restored electricity to about half of the 14,000 houses in Dingxi by 4pm.

Video: Rescuers continue to search for survivors

Rescue efforts were under way, and thousands of people, including soldiers, firefighters and medical personnel, were deployed to quake-affected areas. The Ministry of Civil Affairs allocated 10,000 tents, 30,000 quilts, 5,000 foldable beds and 10,000 sleeping bags to Gansu.

The Gansu provincial government also sent tents, quilts and folding beds to the two counties, but the two hospitals treating the injured said they urgently needed medicine.

Min's hospital of traditional Chinese medicine said it had admitted 283 survivors and were short on beds and drugs.

The provincial public security department imposed a traffic ban on several major roads leading to Min and Zhang to ensure priority for emergency vehicles.

Rain was expected today, with lighter showers tomorrow. "The rain may have an adverse effect on rescue efforts - please pay attention and be on guard," the Dingxi government advised.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse