Three people were killed and dozens injured when a shallow M6.0 earthquake (M5.4 for USGS) struck southwestern China on Thursday, triggering the second-highest level of emergency response by rescuers in Sichuan province.
The quake struck Luxian county before dawn on Thursday around 120 kilometres southwest of the sprawling megacity of Chongqing, which along with its surrounding area is home to around 30 million people.
Rescue workers rushed to lift people from beneath rubble, moving them out of damaged buildings on stretchers, footage from the Sichuan Fire Brigade showed.
Dozens of houses in Luxian were reduced to rubble and many others were damaged. Local media published images of collapsed ceilings in a hospital as residents milled around in the streets after warnings not to return indoors.
The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 5.4 but the China Earthquake Networks Center measured it at magnitude 6.0. Both put it at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres (six miles).
Luxian authorities said the seismic event left “three dead, three seriously injured and 57 slightly injured”.
At least 10,000 people have been moved into emergency shelters, the local government said.
Live footage from Luxian by state broadcaster CCTV showed workers climbing up ladders in pouring rain to remove hazardous debris hanging off buildings, including half-broken panes of glass.
Students had evacuated their dormitories in the dark earlier on Thursday, clutching umbrellas and wearing backpacks, in another video from the Sichuan Daily.
Authorities downplayed the immediate threat of a larger aftershock.
“It is unlikely there will be a larger earthquake in the area in the near future, but aftershocks will continue for some time,” Du Bin, deputy chief of the Sichuan Earthquake Administration, told reporters.
State-run CGTN shared security camera footage showing TVs and refrigerators shaking on the walls of houses as the quake struck, as ornaments smashed onto floors and cracks ran through buildings.
Bricks were strewn across roads and trees felled in some areas, the images showed.
The USGS said that “significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread,” in a preliminary assessment.
Multiple electricity lines were disrupted and 62,000 households were hit by power cuts after the earthquake, the local government in Sichuan said in a Weibo post.
Traffic on highways passing through the area has been rerouted to make way for emergency vehicles and to avoid damaged roads, the local government said.
China is regularly hit by earthquakes, especially in its mountainous western and southwestern regions.
A powerful 7.9-magnitude quake in Sichuan province in 2008 left 87,000 people dead or missing.
Among them were thousands of children, killed when poorly constructed school buildings collapsed, but the government failed to release an exact number of dead as the issue took on a political dimension.
Thursday’s quake comes months after a series of strong earthquakes shook sparsely populated areas in northwest and southwest China in May, killing at least two people and injuring dozens. [First Post, USGS]