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Tragic Qinghai-Tibetan Earthquake

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A powerful magnitude-6.2 earthquake rocked the northern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau just before midnight on Monday, claiming the lives of at least 118 people and leaving hundreds injured, as reported by Chinese state media.

The quake struck the remote and mountainous region, causing widespread destruction to roads, and infrastructure, and triggering landslides that buried a village in silt. Despite swift emergency responses from authorities, the challenging subzero temperatures have complicated rescue efforts. Most of China is grappling with below-freezing conditions following a potent cold wave.

Nestled on the northern fringe of the seismically active Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, western provinces like Gansu are no strangers to earthquakes. China’s deadliest quake in recent history occurred in 2008 when a magnitude-8.0 temblor struck Sichuan, claiming nearly 70,000 lives.

The latest earthquake, with a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), struck Jishishan County in Gansu at 11:59 p.m. local time on Monday, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC). The death toll in Gansu reached 105, with 397 reported injuries, 16 of which were critical, as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. In Qinghai, at least 13 people lost their lives, and 182 were injured, while 20 remained officially missing.

Rescue operations faced extreme conditions in the high-altitude region, where temperatures plunged to minus 14 degrees Celsius (6.8°F). Despite the challenges, approximately 2,200 personnel from the Gansu provincial fire department, 900 from the forest brigade, and 260 professional emergency rescue workers were dispatched to the disaster zone. Additionally, hundreds of the military and police joined the efforts.

As part of the emergency response, Gansu province allocated 20 million yuan ($2.8 million) to the local government and dispatched essential supplies, including 2,600 cotton tents, 10,400 folding beds, 10,400 quilts, 10,400 cotton mattresses, and 1,000 sets of stoves.

The disaster area’s high altitude and cold weather added complexity to the rescue mission. Although the critical 72-hour window for rescuing survivors was further challenged by harsh weather conditions, efforts were underway to prevent secondary disasters beyond the quake itself.

The earthquake damaged water, electricity, transportation, communications, and other vital infrastructure. Power restoration efforts were gradually underway, with approximately 88% of the power supply restored in Jishishan by noon local time. However, numerous highways and rural roads suffered damage due to landslides, though no casualties were reported.

State media footage depicted fire rescue personnel navigating through the rubble, with loose bricks piling onto a dirt alley in a Gansu village, while stronger structures saw collapsed roofs. Meanwhile, a major hydropower dam 50 km from the epicenter reported normal operations.

The quake’s impact extended far beyond its epicenter, with tremors felt as far as 1,000 km away in central Henan province. Local media shared videos of furniture swaying in homes, and residents, awakened by the quake, sought safety in open areas.

Preliminary analysis suggested a thrust-type rupture, one of three above magnitude 6 within 200 km of the epicenter since 1900, according to CCTV. At least 32 aftershocks were reported in the hour following the quake.

As Gansu officials reported the last significant quake within 100 km of the epicenter occurring in 2019, the region experienced nine aftershocks of magnitude 3.0 and above by Tuesday morning. The seismic activity emphasized the region’s vulnerability to such disasters.

In a separate incident, about 3,000 km away in the Xinjiang region, another earthquake with a magnitude of about 5.5 struck at 9:46 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

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