China Earthquake Kills 398, Injures 1,800 More

At 4:30 p.m. local time on Sunday, China suffered a major earthquake, the third to hit Yunnan province in a year.

The BBC reports that at least 398 people have died in a 6.1 magnitude earthquake which ripped through the ground under Yunnan province on Sunday. The quake is the strongest to hit the region in 14 years.

The nation of China sent 2,500 soldiers to assist rescue workers from Zhaotong. Equipped with digging equipment and life-detecting instruments, the troops have joined with more than 700 first responders to give aid to the locals affected by the geological disaster. Twelve sniffer dogs were also brought in to quickly find both survivors and the dead in the rubble of buildings.

The Red Cross sent basic supplies to the earthquake-ravaged region; these supplies include 2,000 tents, 3,000 folding beds, 3,000 quilts, and 3,000 coats. Humanitarian aid is being sought from other countries as the damage continues to be assessed. There have been 42,000 houses either destroyed or damaged.

But, it is difficult for the rescue teams to reach the area as they are hampered by persistent bad weather, and rain has caused several landslides that damaged and blocked the roads. Electricity and landline communications are also down, and water lines have ruptured. Responders and residents are communicating through mobile phones to facilitate rescue efforts.

The rural farming belts of China are often cut off from more heavily populated areas, and when a natural disaster of this sort strikes, the weather and the roads often conspire to make rescue efforts a heroic endeavor. As reported in the Inquisitr a year ago, an earthquake in the northwest of Gansu Province killed many and left the area cutoff from the closest cities.

Temporary medical facilities have been set up in tents to give immediate aid as the local hospitals have already been overwhelmed by the wounded. Chen Wangchang, the head of a county hospital in Zhaotong City, said, “All the houses had already collapsed when we arrived. Dead bodies were everywhere and there were a lot of injured people.”

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) measured the focus of the crustal earthquake at a shallow depth of only six miles (10 km) below the Zhaotong area.

At such a shallow focus, the surface shakes much harder than it does when an earthquake happens at deeper points. The focus of an earthquake is the point underground where rocks break, caused by faults and movements of the continental plates. Crustal quakes are usually widespread and cause great damage at the surface.

Southwest China lies in a geologically volatile region between two tectonic plates. According to the USGS, four more earthquakes occurred in the same region within hours of the deadly 6.1 tremblor. The later tremors were 4.5 and 4.7 in magnitude and struck areas up to 11 miles away from the first quake’s epicenter near Wenping, China. Major earthquakes are often followed by aftershock quakes, sometimes of equal magnitude.

The death toll, according to The Weather Channel, is expected to grow once the response teams reach the more remote areas and towns and begin to assess casualties.

Ludian is a heavily populated county about 277 miles (366 km) northeast of Kunming, Yunnan’s capital city. The epicenter of this massive earthquake occurred in Longtoushan, a town 14 miles (23 km) southwest of Zhaotong. It is a mountainous region where agriculture and mining are the main industries.

The New York Times writes that most of the deaths occurred in Zhaotong, where the buildings are notoriously substandard in construction. In the town of Longtoushan, an elementary school was flattened, and a number of students are suspected of being trapped there.

Ludian County is among the poorest in the region and has a population of 430,000. It is home to a variety of ethnic groups; several of them, including the Miao, Zhuang, and Bai, are considered minorities.

Residents told the Chinese News agency Xinhua that the region looks like a battlefield after it has been shelled.

Ma Liya, one local woman, has said:

“It’s so terrible. The aftermath is much worse than what happened after the quake two years ago. I have never felt so strong tremors before. What I can see are all ruins.”

The U.N.’s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon offered his sympathies to the Chinese government and the families of the dead and went on to express that the U.N. is prepared to provide help with humanitarian aid and support from the international community.

The White House has also offered its condolences. In a press conference on the natural disaster, National Security Council deputy spokesperson Bernadette Meehan announced that:

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those that lost their lives. The United States stands ready to assist.”

For a fuller look at the story on this lethal earthquake in China, read Xinhua‘s report here.

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