Strong Quake in Northwestern China Kills at Least 127 People

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
December 18, 2023China News

A strong overnight earthquake rattled a mountainous region of northwestern China, authorities said Tuesday, destroying homes, leaving residents out in a below-freezing winter night, and killing at least 127 people.

The magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck just before midnight on Monday, injuring more than 700 people, damaging roads and knocking out power and communication lines in Gansu and Qinghai provinces, officials and Chinese media reports said.

The earthquake struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles) in Gansu’s Jishishan county, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the provincial boundary with Qinghai, the China Earthquake Networks Center said. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude at 5.9.

State broadcaster CCTV said 113 were confirmed dead in Gansu and another 536 injured in the province. Fourteen others were killed and 198 injured in Qinghai, in an area north of the epicenter, according to the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official mouthpiece.

There were nine aftershocks measuring magnitude 3.0 or higher by 10 a.m.—about 10 hours after the initial earthquake—the largest one registering a magnitude of 4.1, officials said.

Qinghai officials reported 20 people missing in a landslide, according to Chinese state-owned media.

The earthquake was felt in much of the surrounding area, including Lanzhou, the Gansu provincial capital, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of the epicenter. Photos and videos posted by a student at Lanzhou University showed students hastily leaving a dormitory building and standing outside with long down jackets over their pajamas.

“The earthquake was too intense,” said Wang Xi, the student who posted the images. “My legs went weak, especially when we ran downstairs from the dormitory.”

NTD Photo
Students evacuate from their dormitory at the Lanzhou University Yuzhong campus in Lanzhou in northwestern China’s Gansu province on Dec. 19, 2023, after an earthquake hit the area. (Wang Xi via AP)

The official death toll was the highest since an August 2014 quake that killed at least 617 people in southwest China’s Yunnan province. The country’s deadliest earthquake in recent years was a 7.9 magnitude quake in 2008 that left at least 90,000 dead or presumed dead and devastated towns and schools in Sichuan province, leading to a yearslong effort to rebuild with more resistant materials.

The actual number of casualties from such events may be much higher. The actual number of casualties is difficult to verify, as the CCP routinely suppresses or alters information.

The epicenter of the latest quake was about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) southwest of Beijing, the Chinese capital. The remote and mountainous area is home to several predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and near some Tibetan communities. Geographically, it is in the center of China, though the area is commonly referred to as the northwest, as it is at the northwestern edge of China’s more populated plains.

Two residents of Jishishan county told The Associated Press that there were cracks in their walls but that their buildings did not collapse. They were unsure whether it was safe to stay in their homes and figuring out where to spend the night.

Middle school student Ma Shijun ran out of his dormitory barefoot without even putting on a coat, according to a Xinhua report. It said the strong tremors left his hands a bit numb, and that teachers quickly organized the students on the playground.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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