Nearly 60,000 evac­u­ated af­ter China quake kills 19

6.5 mag­ni­tude quake cracks high­ways, triggers land­slides

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

China yes­ter­day evac­u­ated nearly 60,000 peo­ple in its moun­tain­ous south­west af­ter a strong earth­quake killed at least 19 peo­ple, rat­tling a re­gion where mem­o­ries of a 2008 seis­mic dis­as­ter re­main fresh. The 6.5-mag­ni­tude earth­quake struck Sichuan prov­ince late on Tues­day, tear­ing cracks in moun­tain high­ways, trig­ger­ing land­slides, dam­ag­ing build­ings and send­ing pan­icked res­i­dents and tourists flee­ing into the open.

The provin­cial gov­ern­ment said yes­ter­day af­ter­noon that most of the tourists-many stranded at a pop­u­lar na­tional park near the epi­cen­ter-have been evac­u­ated af­ter spend­ing a ner­vous night out in the open as more than 1,000 af­ter­shocks rip­pled across the re­gion. Locals will also be moved to safer ground, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor­i­ties.

The area’s dif­fi­cult ge­og­ra­phy-and travel re­stric­tions quickly im­posed by au­thor­i­ties-have so far pre­vented a clear pic­ture of the scale of the dis­as­ter from emerg­ing, but there were no re­ports of cat­a­strophic dam­age or large-scale ca­su­al­ties by yes­ter­day af­ter­noon. The quake killed at least 19 peo­ple and in­jured at least 247, 40 of them se­ri­ously, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal gov­ern­ment of Aba pre­fec­ture where the epi­cen­ter was lo­cated.

Two for­eign na­tion­als, a French man and a Cana­dian woman, are among the in­jured. Im­ages on so­cial me­dia or in state news out­lets showed cars and buses tossed into ravines or crushed by gi­ant boul­ders jolted loose from sur­round­ing hills, and res­cue per­son­nel comb­ing through rub­ble for any vic­tims. Aerial footage broad­cast by state-run Xin­hua news agency showed pic­turesque green-forested moun­tains now scarred by huge gouges from gi­ant land­slides that sent clouds of dust into the air.

‘We just ran’

The quake’s epi­cen­ter was near Ji­uzhaigou, a na­tional park and UNESCO World Her­itage Site famed for its karst rock for­ma­tions, wa­ter­falls and lakes. Xin­hua said at least five of the deaths oc­curred there, and that more than 30,000 peo­ple had been evac­u­ated from Ji­uzhaigou alone. “Nearly all the tourists are be­ing evac­u­ated,” a Ji­uzhaigou tour com­pany worker who gave only her sur­name, Yan, told AFP by phone. “We slept overnight in tour buses and have been stay­ing in the open ground.

Land­slides are pretty bad, rocks keep fall­ing down.” China’s of­fi­cial earth­quake mon­i­tor­ing agency said more than 1,000 af­ter­shocks had been de­tected, the most pow­er­ful reach­ing mag­ni­tude 4.8 yes­ter­day morn­ing. More than 2,000 kilo­me­ters to the north­west, a 6.3-mag­ni­tude tremor shook the far-western bor­der re­gion of Xin­jiang on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to the US Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. The Xin­jiang quake, which was fol­lowed by af­ter­shocks of 5.2 and 5.3 mag­ni­tude, in­jured 32 peo­ple and dam­aged more than 1,000 homes, Xin­hua said.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping called for “all-out ef­forts to rapidly or­ga­nize re­lief work and res­cue the in­jured” in the Sichuan quake. Hun­dreds of sol­diers and res­cue per­son­nel had been de­ployed to the Ji­uzhaigou area, along with hun­dreds of ve­hi­cles, and dozens of snif­fer dogs and de­vices used to de­tect life un­der­neath rub­ble.

A stream of empty tour buses bear­ing the sign “Emer­gency Res­cue Ve­hi­cle” made their way across the high­way to­ward the dis­as­ter zone yes­ter­day af­ter­noon. The quake struck at a shal­low depth of 10 kilo­me­ters, the USGS said, and was re­port­edly felt hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters from the epi­cen­tre. Shal­low quakes tend to cause more sur­face dam­age. It evoked mem­o­ries of a mas­sive 8.0-mag­ni­tude earth­quake that dev­as­tated wide ar­eas of the same re­gion in 2008, leav­ing 87,000 peo­ple dead or miss­ing in China’s worst seis­mic dis­as­ter in a gen­er­a­tion.

“I was also in Ji­uzhaigou in 2008 dur­ing the last big quake, so I knew what it was. This felt even stronger,” lo­cal restau­rant owner Tang Sesh­eng told AFP by phone. “Peo­ple didn’t dare grab any­thing like money or clothes-we just all ran out­side right away.” Sev­eral peo­ple con­tacted by AFP re­ported see­ing some struc­tures col­lapse. Oth­ers, speak­ing from the road amid an ex­o­dus on traf­fic-choked moun­tain high­ways, re­ported cars be­ing hit by per­sis­tent rock­falls in the quake’s af­ter­math.

The 2008 quake set off deadly land­slides in the re­gion, oblit­er­at­ing towns and damming rivers-cre­at­ing men­ac­ing “quake lakes” that forced the evac­u­a­tion of thou­sands down­stream as the army worked to clear the block­ages. The Red Cross So­ci­ety of China said it was send­ing emer­gency spe­cial­ists and vol­un­teers, while Save the Chil­dren was also mo­bi­liz­ing teams. “Given the fre­quent land­slides in the rainy sea­son and po­ten­tial mas­sive sec­ondary dis­as­ter fol­low­ing the big earth­quake, Save the Chil­dren is deeply con­cerned about the safety of chil­dren and women in the af­fected ar­eas,” said the char­ity’s op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor in China, Zhang Hongxia. —AFP

SICHUAN PROV­INCE: In this photo re­leased by China’s Xin­hua News Agency, med­i­cal per­son­nel treat an in­jured man at the Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal in Ji­uzhaigou county. —AP

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