At least 46 people have died, roads blocked and homes “severely damaged” as a powerful earthquake hit a mountainous area in southwest China on Monday, mobilizing thousands of rescue workers, state media said.
The tremors were recorded at 12:52 local time (4:52 GMT) in Sichuan province, the US Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s leading earthquake organization, said.
According to Chinese state television CCTV, the epicenter is located 39 kilometers from Luding County, in a not very densely populated area.
The latest preliminary figures, revised upwards tonight, currently report at least 46 dead, according to national television, which also mentions 16 missing and 50 injured.
A previous estimate reported “more than 30 dead”.
The tremors were also felt about 200 kilometers from the epicenter, in the provincial capital of Chengdu, where 21 million people are currently unable to leave their homes due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
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 since the city is closed, “people are not allowed to leave their housing estates,” she stressed.
– Ruined houses –
Authorities have not reported any damage in the provincial capital. Chengdu extended the quarantine of its residents on Sunday after hundreds of new positive coronavirus cases were discovered in recent days.
A video released by the agency shows chandeliers swinging from the ceiling and sections of concrete buildings falling to the ground.
Surveillance cameras, for their part, showed footage of orange-uniformed firefighters clearing the road of fallen rocks, and a blue sedan with its windshield smashed by a huge rock.
Faced with the death toll likely to rise, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged “everything possible to come to the aid of those affected by the natural disaster and minimize loss of life,” Chinese news reported.
The city of Jaan, located near the epicenter, speaks of “various levels of damage” in the affected areas.
“Seriously damaged houses” and “disconnected telecommunications” in some places near the epicenter, for its part, indicated the neighboring prefecture of Garze, where there were 29 victims.
More than 1,000 soldiers and army officers have been mobilized, according to the Sichuan Seismological Bureau, which released images of its laptop-wielding engineers mobilized to the scene.
According to CCTV, local authorities have also deployed several thousand rescuers, firefighters, doctors or members of the People’s Armed Police – gendarmes in charge of public safety and mobilized during natural disasters.
– Blankets and cots –
Authorities moved thousands of tents, blankets and cots to affected areas to help people whose homes were damaged, CCTV reported.
A video released by the China Seismic Network Center shows boulders rolling down a hill in the town of Luding, kicking up clouds of dust and phone lines flickering with tremors.
The center reported several aftershocks of lesser intensity after the first earthquake.
Sichuan, very mountainous, is world famous for its giant panda reserves. Earthquakes regularly occur in the province.
Firefighters outside their barracks, hit by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake, in Hailuogou, China, September 5, 2022 (AFP – STR)
In June, the region was already rocked by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake that killed at least four people and injured dozens.
In May 2008, a very strong earthquake of magnitude 7.9 hit Sichuan province, killing or missing 87,000 people. The disaster became a national shock.
Among the victims were thousands of students who died as a result of the collapse of precariously built schools. Police at the time arrested activists who were trying to count the exact number of children who died in the disaster.