::Weather Wars:: Get Down Or Lay Down – Hundreds Feared Dead In Chinese Earthquake
Nearly 400 people are feared dead after a rapid series of strong earthquakes hit a mountainous and impoverished area of China’s Qinghai province early Wednesday, state-run media said.
At least 10,000 others were injured, the Xinhua news agency reported, and many victims, including school children, were buried under debris. Rescuers were struggling to clear debris with their hands and save those trapped below.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake, as measured by the U.S. Geological Survey, struck at 7:49 a.m. local time (7:49 p.m. ET Tuesday), when many citizens were still at home and schools were beginning the day. The USGS also recorded several strong aftershocks — one of magnitude 5.8 — all within hours of the initial quake.
The epicenter was located in remote and rugged terrain, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Qamdo, Tibet. Qinghai borders the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xingjiang and the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan.
Karsum Nyima, deputy director of news at local Yushu TV, told Xinhua that most of the houses in the area were made of wood with earthen walls. He said some had come tumbling down, including a Buddhist pagoda in a park.
The temblors “have toppled houses, temples, gas stations and electric poles, triggered landslides, damaged roads, cut power supplies and disrupted telecommunications,” Xinhua said. “A reservoir was also cracked, where workers are trying to prevent the outflow of water.”
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local authorities to “go all out to save the disaster-stricken people,” Xinhua said. Vice Premier Hui Liangyu was dispatched to the region.
About 700 soldiers were working to clear rubble and rescue buried quake victims, according to Xinhua. More than 5,000 others, including soldiers and medical workers, were sent to the area, the Qinghai provincial government told reporters in a news conference, Xinhua said.
The news agency reported panic on the streets as crews launched rescue efforts in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
“We have to mainly rely on our hands to clear away the debris as we have no large excavating machines,” police officer Shi Huajie said. “We have no medical equipment, either.”
A Chinese military official told Xinhua that the death toll was expected to rise, given the damage to homes.
He said dispatched soldiers were setting up tents and transporting oxygen for the injured but affected roads leading to the airport could hamper relief efforts.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs plans to distribute 5,000 tents, 50,000 coats and 50,000 quilts to the earthquake zone, Xinhua said.
The Hong Kong Red Cross said it had mobilized 200,000 Hong Kong dollars (about $27,700) to support the relief operation through providing tents, quilts, clothes and food to victims.
The headquarters of the Red Cross Society of China was also sending relief supplies and had dispatched a team to the area for assessment, the organization said in a statement.
“Our top priority is to save students,” Kang Zifu, an army officer in the town of Gyegu, told Xinhua. “Schools are always places that have many people.”
Gyegu is the seat of government in the Yushu prefecture, a Tibetan region of Qinghai, the news agency said, and has a population of about 100,000.
More than 85 percent of houses in Gyegu had collapsed, a prefecture official told Xinhua.
“Many are buried in the collapsed houses, and there are still lots of others who are injured and being treated at local hospitals,” he said.
The Hong Kong Red Cross said 90 percent of houses throughout Yushu had collapsed. Temperatures in the area are forecast to be around the freezing mark at night, the Red Cross said, so “provision of emergency shelters for the victims remains a high priority.”
Population: 5 million
People: 44 ethnic groups, including Tibetans and Mongols
Average elevation: Over 3,000 meters above sea level
Geography: Qilian Mountains, the Qingnan Plateau and the source of the Yangtze, Mekong and Yellow Rivers
GDP: US$3.2 billion; average GDP per capita US$639
Industries: Agriculture, hydropower, oil and natural gas
Source: China Internet Information Center
Many ethnic Tibetans live in Gyegu, said CNN’s John Vause. He said one resident told CNN that when his house began to shake, he grabbed his family and ran outside. There was another quake, and his house collapsed, he said. His family was currently housed outside in tents, he said, but he had managed to buy water. He said they had seen no government assistance.
People were living in fear, the man said, and some were headed up into the mountains to escape the threat of flooding, should the reservoir break.
The region is relatively poor and located in the foothills of the Himalayas at a relatively high altitude, Vause said. Many buildings are not well-constructed and unlikely to hold up well in a quake.
Given the landscape, rescue efforts are sure to be “challenging,” said Francis Markus, of the International Federation of the Red Cross. He spoke with CNN from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, which experienced its own tragedy in May, 2008, when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake killed roughly 70,000 people.
“But China does have a lot of experience and a lot of resources,” he said. “The capability is there. It’s just a question of getting it to this remote spot.”
Forecasters said Yushu would see strong winds and sleet in the coming days, which will hamper rescue efforts, Xinhua said.
Some Twitter users were outraged that Chinese television, CNN affiliate CCTV, did not feature the quake as its top story, instead headlining the U.S. nuclear summit in Washington that Hu is attending. Others blamed officials for failing to predict the quake.
“Of course this earthquake has been the headline for all the Chinese media,” CCTV correspondent Fung Jinchao told CNN. He said his network had sent a large group of reporters to the region.