Rescuers in remote villages of northwest China dug through the rubble of collapsed homes in freezing conditions on Tuesday after the country’s deadliest earthquake in years killed at least 127 people.
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 14 died and 198 were injured in Haidong in neighbouring Qinghai province, state-run newspaper the People’s Daily reported.
The quake damaged more than 155,000 buildings, according to state broadcaster CCTV, and sent residents running into the freezing streets for safety.
At a village near the epicentre, AFP 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 told AFP.
“I can’t live (in this house) anymore 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 vehicles, and the AFP team saw trucks covered in red banners reading “earthquake relief supplies”.
As evening fell, volunteers scrambled to set up tents in a town square to make a base for rescuers.
Two dozen military trucks were parked nearby.
“The most urgent task for us is to make things ready quickly as temperatures will reach -17 (degrees Celsius) tonight,” a volunteer told AFP.
– Deadliest in years –
The quake was China’s deadliest since 2014, when more than 600 people died in southwestern 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 at 11:59 pm local time (1559 GMT) with an epicentre around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Gansu’s provincial capital, Lanzhou.
Footage showed emergency personnel going through debris by torchlight, unfolding orange stretchers for the casualties.
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 570 kilometres 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 northwest in the Xinjiang region on Tuesday morning.
– Freezing temperatures –
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “all-out efforts” as search and rescue work got under way early Tuesday.
Rescuers should be on guard for secondary disasters in the difficult conditions in the high-altitude area, 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 200 million Yuan ($28 million) in relief funding to “guarantee the security of people’s lives and property, and minimize the impact of losses from the disaster”.
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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his “deep” condolences over the quake to his Chinese counterpart Xi.
“In Russia, we share the pain of those who lost their loved ones in the disaster and hope for a speedy recovery for all those injured,” said Putin in a letter, according to a statement from the Kremlin.