A powerful earthquake hit a remote region in western China at 23:49 UTC on April 13 (07:49 on April 14 local time), destroying buildings, damaging infrastructure and killing at least 400 people. The earthquake, measuring 6.9 Mw, was located between China’s Qinghai Province and the Tibet Autonomous Region, some 28 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Yushu and 235 miles (375 kilometers) south-southeast of Golmud, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS added that the quake had a shallow depth of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and it was the strongest earthquake to hit the region since 1976. At least 18 aftershocks have hit the area since the main earthquake, the most powerful at 5.8 Mw.
The USGS said more than 300,000 people live in areas impacted by a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) of V or higher (see Table 1 below), equivalent to moderate shaking with the potential for light damage. No major towns or cities were exposed to significant shaking (MMI V or greater), but more than 17,000 people experienced between MMI intensity VII (very strong) and X (extreme) shaking, the USGS said.
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Yushu County (population of around 100,000 people), which is some 500 miles (800 kilometers) south-west of the provincial capital Xining, suffered the worst of the earthquake’s shaking. The sparsely populated and remote region is predominantly inhabited by Tibetan farmers and is home to several coal, tin, lead and copper mines. The earthquake was also strongly felt in the neighbouring Qamdo Prefecture and other regions in Tibet. Reports said many buildings in Yushu are thought to be made from wood and government officials said the majority of houses in the county were badly damaged. Residents reported that one-story houses performed poorly while taller buildings held up. Officials said the worst-hit town was Jiegu, where 85 percent of buildings were reportedly destroyed. Power and water have been cut off here, and the road to the local airport is reported to have been blocked by landslides.
Current reports indicate at least 400 people have been killed with more than 10,000 injured. Officials said these figures are likely to rise as many people are still trapped under the debris of collapsed buildings. Many people have fled to nearby mountains, amid fears that a dam in the region could burst. State media reported that officials are trying to drain a reservoir after a crack appeared in the dam. Around 5,000 specialist earthquake rescuers and 1,000 troops have been dispatched to assist the rescue operation. However, their progress has been slowed by the infrastructure damage, including roads blocked by landslides.
In 2008, a 7.9 Mw earthquake hit neighboring Sichuan Province, leaving 87,000 people dead or missing. The epicentre of this earthquake was centred close to densely populated areas. Estimates at the time of the 2008 earthquake suggested 5 million buildings were destroyed, causing an economic loss of around USD120 billion and insured losses of more than USD300 million.
Table 1: Estimated Population Exposed to Significant Earthquake Shaking
Estimated Population Exposure
Sources: USGS, Xinhua News Agency, Reuters News, Associated News, Agence France Presse, CNN News, BBC News
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