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earthquake refugee from
Yushu Earthquake in Qinhai in 2010

Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces get struck by a lot of earthquakes. Sichuan got hammered by a really big one in 2008. China lies entirely on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate but the Tibetan region in the southwest sits at the boundary of the Indian and Eurasian Plates. This area, which influences Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces and Xinjiang is prone to earthquakes. Many earthquakes here are linked with movements along the plates that created the Himalayas. At the Himalayas, the Indian subcontinent rams into the Eurasian plate, . Since both continents are too light to subduct, the older heavier Indian crust wedges under Eurasia and thrust up the high plateaus and massive folds of the mountains range. India was south of the equator 30 million years ago and pushed north.

The remote area of north Sichuan close to Tibet is prone to earthquakes. One in 1933 resulted in parts of Diexi town becoming submerged by a nearby lake. The 8.0 magnitude Wenchuan county earthquake in central Sichuan’s in May 2008 killed nearly 90,000 people. These quakes occurred along a seismically active fault line, known as Longmenshan, that runs between the Tibetan plateau and Sichuan Basin. Jiang Haikun, an official with the China Earthquake Administration, told the New York Times 12 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or greater have occurred along the Longmenshan fault line since 1900.

Yunnan Province in southwest China gets its share of tremors. It lies where the Eurasian and Indian plates meet. More than 70 earthquakes measuring over five on the Richter scale have occurred near Tengchongin the Gaoligong Mountain Range. There are also 20 volcanoes and numerous hot springs in the area. Gaopo in Zhenxiong county of northeast of Yunnan is a temperate province known for its tobacco industry and Pu'er tea. But its mountainous areas are prone to landslides and earthquakes. Two quakes in September 2012 — one of magnitude 5.7 — left 81 dead and hundreds injured (See Below). A neighbouring county was hit by a landslide in October 2012 that killed 18 children, after one that killed 216 people in 1991, according to the United States Geological Survey.[Source: AFP, January 13, 2013]

After the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which thousands died in collapsed schools and poorly constructed buildings construction standards were significantly tightened and China’s disaster response capacity was improved with better equipment and trained rescue teams. The improved construction standards mainly affected urban areas. Poorly-built homes are still the norm in many rural areas. Christine Mai-Duc wrote in Los Angeles Times: “Data from USGS says people in the surrounding areas live “in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking,” with the primary building type being unreinforced brick masonry and adobe block construction. USGS seismologist David Wald, the likelihood of "scores" or even hundreds of fatalities is high, given the types of buildings in the region and the history of damage from previous earthquakes in the area. Wald says the fact that the earthquake occurred at night could mean an increased chance of fatalities, because so many people live in poorly built structures. "In California, probably the safest place you would be during an earthquake at night is in your home," Wald says. "In China, and in a number of places with agricultural societies, during the day you'd have a lot of people outside, and the worst time would be at night."[Source: Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2014]

Major Earthquakes in Yunnan and Sichuan

In 1970, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake in Yunnan killed at least 15,000. In 1974, a magnitude 6.8 quake in the area killed more than 1,500 people. In November 1988 one measuring 7.6 devastated a remote area of Yunnan, killing at least 730 and destroying about 400,000 homes. In April 1985 an earthquake measuring 6.3 struck Yunnan province, killing 22.

On May 11, 1974, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake occurred in Daguan in Yunnan province. People felt a strong shock over an an area of 400,000 square kilometers. The earthquake killed 1423 people, hurt 1,600 people, damaged 66,000 houses, of which 28,000 houses collapsed. Wooden-framed houses were not damaged at all in the central earthquake area. The tremor also caused landslides, avalanches and mudslides in the mountains and the ground to split. It ruined roads, fields, livestock pens and swallowed villages. A large landslide dammed a river and st avalanche thronged to the opposite bank of the crook and formed a 30-meter-high dam, causing a valley to become a reservoir. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

On May 29, 1976, two strong earthquake struck Longling County in western Yunnan one after another. The first was of 7.3 magnitudes. The second was of 7.4 magnitude. The two quakes belonged to a swarm of earthquake. Aftershocks occurred with high intensity and frequency. Each shock had two areas with a high level of damage. During the period from May 29, 1976 to the end of 1976, 2477 earthquakes of 3 plus magnitude or more occurred. Among them were 19 earthquakes of 4.7 to 5.9 and one each of 6.2, 7.3 and 7.4. The earthquake affected Baoshan District, Yunnan, Lincang District and nine counties in Dehong municipality at different levels. A total of 98 people were killed, 451 people were seriously hurt and 1991 were slightly hurt. Around 420,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. Damage took place in an area of 1883 square kilometers. Landslides caused by the shock resulted in severe damages, including damage to 180 farm houses and 3900 hectares of fields, farms, forests and tea plantations. A total of 1126 canals and one hydroelectric station with the capacity of 240kw and three with the capacity of below 20 kw and 185 kilometers of highway were affected. Most of the landslides were shallow landslides. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

On August 16, 1976 an earthquake of 7.2 magnitude occurred in between Songfan and Pingwu in Sichuan Province. The earthquake belonged to a group of earthquakes and aftershocks. Following the main earthquake there were shocks of 6.7 magnitude on August 22 and of 7.2 magnitudes on August 23. The earthquake could be felt in a large surrounding area including Gaotai in Gansu Province in the west; Kunming in Yunnan Province to the south; Hohhot in Inner Mongolia in the north and Changsha in Hunan Province in the east. The radius around the epicenter was 1150 kilometers. Continuous rainstorms after the quakes caused landslides and mudslides that in turn, caused severe damage to fields, roads and river beds. The communication to the outside was cut off. Many farms were destroyed. The loss in grain production amounted to 5 million kilograms and more than 2000 horses were killed. Because the shock took place in sparsely populated areas and because of the earthquake forecast and evacuation of the people, only 800 people were killed or injured; 600 people suffered slight injuries from avalanches, explosions and rolling rocks. This earthquake also caused other loss in social and economic aspects. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

In February, 1996 an earthquake measuring 7.0 struck Lijiang in Yunnan, killing 322 people and injuring 16,000. About 358,000 homes were completely destroyed and over 654,000 others were damaged. It was the worst earthquake in China in eight years. Lijiang has had 22 major earthquakes since 1474. In October 1995 an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale struck Yunnan province, killing at least 50, injuring 6,000 and leaving 170,000 people homeless.

Earthquakes in Yunnan in the 2000s

An earthquake in July 2003 in a mountainous part of Yunnan, measuring 6.2 killed 15 and injured 400 and left thousands homeless. An earthquake in October 2003 in Yunnan, measuring 6.1,killed three people and damaged around 14,000 homes. In August 2004, an earthquake measuring 5.6 struck in the area around Ludian in northern Yunnan province, killing four, injuring 600 and leaving more than 125,000 homeless.

In January 2006, a magnitude 5 earthquake damaged 14,000 homes but only injured one person in impoverished Mjiang county. In July 2006, a moderate 5.1 magnitude earthquake killed 22 people and injuring 100 others and damaging 38,000 buildings in 13 townships in Yanjin county. In August 2006, an earthquake and aftershocks killed at least two people and damaged thousands of houses in Yanjin and Daguan counties.

In June 2007, a strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 followed by 55 aftershocks killed three people, injured 290, destroyed or damaged 100,000 homes and damaged crops in the tea-making city of Pu’er in southwest Yunnan Province. One of the dead was a four-year-old girl crushed when the mud-wall house she lived in collapsed. In August 2008, an earthquake measuring 5.9 struck an area near the border of Myanmar, killing three, injuring about 100 and damaging hundreds of homes. Thousands slept outside their homes out of fear of aftershocks. A day earlier a destructive earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale struck the same area. In December 2008, an earthquake measuring 4.9 struck an area around Ruili near the Myanmar border, injuring 19 people. Two other tremors measuring above four also hit the area.

In July 2009, an earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale struck a mountainous area about 100 kilometers northeast of the tourist town of Dali, killing one person, injuring 328 and causing 18,000 homes to collapse and another 75,000 to be damaged. More than 400,000 people were forced to evacuate. One villager told AFP, : I was harvesting tobacco leaves...when the quake hit, I felt dizzy and saw villagers falling over, many houses collapsed. The person who died was a 50-year-old who died from blood loss after being buried under debris from her house.

In March 2011, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake near the Myanmar border in Yingilang County killed at least 25 people, injured 207 and toppled over 1,000 houses and apartment buildings. Photos of the quake showed buildings that pancaked, crushing people in the lower floors, firefighters pulling victims from the wreckage, a supermarket and hotel with collapsed walls and a sidewalk lined with injured under blankets. In June 2012, Associated Press reported: “A moderate earthquake toppled houses in a mountainous part of southwestern China, killing four people and injuring at least 100. The magnitude-5.7 quake was centered near the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces where many of the Yi ethnic minority live., the official Xinhua News Agency reported.It said the casualties occurred in Yunnan's Ninglang county and Sichuan's Yanyuan county, where many houses collapsed. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 5.5. The area is about 2,340 kilometers (1,450 miles) southwest of Beijing. [Source: AFP, June 24, 2012]

Yunnan Earthquake in 2014 Kills More Than 600

In August 2014, over 600 people were killed and 1,800 were injured by a strong earthquake in Ludian and Qiaojia counties of Zhaotong prefecture in Yunnan province according to China’s Emergency Management Office. The high number of deaths was at least partly blamed on the poor quality of construction in the rugged, mountainous area. Reuters and AFP reported:: “The quake has left residents searching for survivors beneath the rubble of toppled buildings and communications and power lines, as images shared on social media show. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) measured the quake at a magnitude of 6.1, striking 11 kilometers north-west of the town of Wenping at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers. China Earthquake Networks Center said the quake was magnitude 6.5.[Source: Reuters, AFP, August 4, 2014]

“State television says firefighters have been rushed to the epicenter and civil affairs authorities are sending tents and beds for people left without shelter. Television footage shows people running from their homes and gathering in the streets. One person, who says they live in Ludian county, 23 kilometers from the epicenter, has posted an image of cracked walls and a pile of bricks strewn across the road on China's Twitter-like Weibo.Another Ludian resident speaking on Xinhua says the scene resembles a "battlefield after bombardment". "I have never felt [such] strong tremors before. What I can see are all in ruins."

The central government allocated $97 million for rescue and relief work after the quake, the Finance Ministry said. Rescue teams freed scores of trapped survivors as they dig through the thousands of homes that collapsed. A 5-year-old boy freed by hand-digging Monday was among the dozens rescued in the first two days, Xinhua reported. The South China Morning Post reported: “The rescuers included some 5,000 soldiers, police officers, and firefighters. Rescuers try to free a trapped child out of the rubble in the quake-hit Zhichang township of Huize county in Yunnan. Rain and thunderstorms after the quake complicated efforts to bring tents, water, food and other relief supplies to survivors. Roads caved in, and rescuers were forced to travel on foot. The Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said 29,400 people were evacuated.“I have never felt such strong tremors before. All I can see are ruins,” Ma said. “The aftermath is much, much worse than what happened after the quake” in 2012. The death toll rose after rescuers reach remote communities to assess casualties. [Source: He Huifeng, South China Morning Post, August 3, 2014]

The epicenter of the earthquake was about 370 kilometers (230 miles) northeast of the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming. CCTV said it was the strongest quake to hit Yunnan in 14 years. Most of the casualties were in Ludian county. Around 50 were killed and 102 injured in nearby Qiaojia county. Another four died and dozens more were injured in Huize county. Tremors were felt in several cities in Yunnan, including Qujing and Kunming, and as far away as Chongqing, Leshan and Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Xian in Shaanxi. Longtoushan and nearby townships are about 50 kilometers away from downtown Zhaotong city, which is densely populated. Ludian's seven townships have a population of nearly 430,000.

Associated Press reported:“Further into the quake zone, survivors, including some half-naked, were sitting along muddy roads in the rain waiting for food and medication, Xinhua said. Medics were reporting severe shortages of medicine and an inability to perform operations on the severely injured, while rescuers said their work had been hampered by continuous downpours and quake-triggered landslides, Xinhua said. “Ma Yaoqi, an 18-year-old volunteer in the quake zone, said by phone that at least half of the buildings had collapsed on the road from the city of Zhaotong to the hardest-hit town of Longtou. The rest of the buildings were damaged, she said. "I saw dead bodies being wrapped in quilts and carried away," said Ma, who arrived with 20 other volunteers Monday. "Some were wrapped with small quilts. Those must be kids."[Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 5, 2014]

Damage from the 2014 Yunnan Earthquake

The earthquake struck at 4:30pm on a Sunday local time. The epicenter was in Ludian county township of Longtoushan. Ludian, which has a population of almost 266,000 people. Zhaotong City, the prefectural capital, lies about 300 kilometers from the provincial capital Kunming. "Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries," a local official said. Xinhua said electricity and communications services have also been affected, adding that homes and older structures have been particularly affected. Around 12,000 mostly brick houses have collapsed and 30,000 damaged, Xinhua said. [Source: Reuters, AFP, August 4, 2014]

Associated Press reported: Overhead footage of the quake zone shot by state broadcaster CCTV showed older houses flattened but newer multistory buildings still standing. The mountainous region where the quake occurred is largely agricultural, with farming and mining the top industries, and is prone to earthquakes. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 5, 2014] said 42,000 homes destroyed or damaged. The South China Morning Post reported:“Overhead footage of the quake zone shot by state broadcaster CCTV showed older houses flattened but newer multi-storey buildings still standing. The streets of Ludian county seat of Zhaotong were like a “battlefield after a bombardment,” resident Ma Liya told Xinhua. She added that her neighbour’s house, a new two-storey building, had toppled, and said the quake was far worse than one that struck the area in 2012 and killed 81 people. [Source: He Huifeng, South China Morning Post, August 3, 2014]

“The quake toppled and cracked many buildings, particularly old ones and residential homes, Xinhua reported. Many of the homes that collapsed in Ludian were old and made of brick, Xinhua said. Debris of collapsed houses were scattered along a street in Ludian county. A Ludian resident told Xinhua: "I felt a strong jolt in my fifth-floor home and some small objects fell off the shelves." Another resident was driving his car when the earthquake struck and said it felt like he was "sailing a boat".

“Almost all houses in a village in Zhichang township, Huize county, collapsed, leaving 11 people injured, the news website reported. Internet users posted photos showing cracked walls, ruined buildings and people searching among the debris. Local people expressed anger online, blaming authorities for using hollow bricks in poor-quality buildings.Locals search among the rubble in Yunnan. One resident told the South China Morning Post such buildings were common in rural areas of Zhaotong city because they were cheap to build. "They are the most dangerous buildings to be in during an earthquake."

After the August 2014 earthquake in Yunnan, rising lakes formed by landslides, complicating relief efforts and presented a danger in themselves. Associated Press reported: “Landslides have created barrier lakes where water levels were rising to pose a new threat to about 800 residents and seven power stations downstream, where sudden flooding could prompt widespread power outages, Xinhua reported. A main road into the worst-hit areas of Ludian was clogged with bulldozers, backhoes and civilian and military vehicles carrying supplies including water and instant noodles. Nearly 10,000 soldiers and police had entered the quake-stricken areas, the Defense Ministry said.[Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, August 5, 2014]

In October 2014, a strong earthquake with a magnitude of at least a 6.0 struck Yunnan Province. It was centered about 18 kilometers (11 miles) west of Weiyuan. The Los Angeles Times reported: “At least one person is dead and more than a dozen have been injured. According to the Chinese Earthquake Administration, three people were seriously injured and at least 20 others had minor injuries. Some homes near the epicenter were destroyed, officials said. “Officials there said shaking could be felt as far away as Kunming, about 270 miles away, officials said.[Source: Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2014]

“There was some conflict in the reported magnitudes of the quake: United States Geological Society data reported a 6.0 magnitude, while China’s Earthquake Administration said it was a 6.6 quake. Chinese officials said the quake occurred at a depth of about 3.1 miles. Chinese officials say a total of 30 aftershocks have been recorded in the area since 9:49 p.m., when the initial earthquake occurred. Eight of those were between 2.9 and 4.2 in magnitude, according to China's earthquake administration.

Earthquakes in Yunnan and Guizhou Kill 81 in September 2012

In September 2012, at least 81 people were killed in a series of earthquakes that struck Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces in southwestern China. The BBC and AP reported: “More than 800 people were injured after the quakes hit. The tremors struck mostly mountainous areas, causing landslides that blocked some roads. The earthquakes thousands of homes and sent boulders tumbling down slopes. They struck a region of small farms and mines near the border between Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, where some of China's poorest people live. The US Geological Survey registered the two strongest of the quakes at 5.6 magnitude. Most of the deaths were in Yunnan's Yiliang county, said officials. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2012; Associated Press, September 9, 2013]

The BBC reported: China's Xinhua news agency quoted officials in Yunnan as saying 6,650 houses had been destroyed in the province and 430,000 others damaged. More than 100,000 people have already been evacuated, said Xinhua, and the Red Cross has sent 650 tents and 3,000 quilts to the region.The authorities have deployed the army to assist rescue teams in the rough terrain. "Roads are blocked and rescuers have to climb the mountains to reach hard-hit villages," Li Fuchun, head of Yunnan's Luozehe town, was quoted as saying.

Mobile and regular phone service in the area was experiencing disruption, according to reports. Television footage from state-run broadcaster CCTV showed hundreds of local residents gathering on streets littered with bricks and rocks. Users of the Twitter-like wesbite Weibo reported people rushing out of shaking office buildings, and photos posted online also showed streets strewn with rubble.

According to Associated Press: The first magnitude-5.6 quake struck just before 11:30 a.m. Friday and was followed by an equally strong quake shortly after noon. Though of moderate strength, the quakes were shallow. Such quakes often cause more damage than deeper ones. As of noon two days later, there had been 279 aftershocks, said Zhang Junwei, spokesman of Yunnan's seismological bureau. Xinhua quoted Zhou Guangfu, deputy chief of the county's education bureau, as saying that three students were among those who died. He said more than 300 high schools and primary schools were damaged and the education bureau would inspect schools before allowing classes to continue.

Relief Efforts After Earthquakes in Yunnan and Guizhou in September 2012

Associated Press reported: “Survivors of multiple earthquakes in southwestern China waited for shelter and other supplies on Monday amid forecasts of heavy rains that are likely to hinder ongoing search efforts. About 60,000 residents from Jiaokui town in Yiliang county, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the epicenter of one of the earthquakes, had been evacuated to open spaces, an official surnamed Guo said by telephone from the township government office. Guo said only the older survivors had tents, and that food, water, cotton quilts, clothes and medicine were also needed. [Source: Associated Press, September 9, 2012]

The official Xinhua News Agency cited local authorities as saying mobile phone services in the quake-hit areas had been basically restored. Footage from China Central Television showed rescuers and sniffer dogs running past steep slopes because of the risk of fist-sized stones tumbling down. It also showed an ambulance stuck in stones and debris.

A resident of Luozehe town, close to where the quakes struck, said he and others were evacuated to a more central area of the county. "It's quite hot here. There isn't enough drinking water or tents," said Wu Xuehong, who described seeing dead livestock after farm buildings collapsed. More than 11,000 tents, 10,500 quilts, 6,000 coats and other supplies including bottled water and rice have been delivered to Yiliang and more are on the way, Xinhua said, citing the rescue headquarters. State media reported Saturday that the army and police had mobilized more than 3,200 personnel to help rescue efforts, along with 4,000 militiamen and reserve forces. That means 11,000 rescuers are attempting to clear roads, evacuate people and search for the missing.

The BBC reported: Aid agencies said they were concerned about the plight of children in the two provinces following the quakes. "We are especially worried about those who may have been separated from their parents, as more aftershocks are expected to hit the area," Save the Children in China Country Director Pia MacRae said. The largest of the quakes was also felt in the neighbouring province of Sichuan.

Earthquakes in Sichuan After the Big 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

An earthquake in Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 killed around 90,000 people and caused $150 billion in damage (See Separate Articles such as SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008 ). In the months that followed there were more quakes. In July 2008, three earthquakes — with the strongest measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale struck a region on the border Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces, killing one and injuring at least 10. In August 2008, an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale struck an area of Tibet near the Nepal border, damaging hundreds of homes.

In August 2008, an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale rocked southwestern Sichuan Province, killing 38 and injuring 650 and destroying 250,000 homes. It was centered 50 kilometers southeast of the city of Panzhihua, where 400 houses were destroyed, Another 1,000 were destroyed in the neighboring farming town of Liangshan. Relief works was hampered by heavy rains and difficult terrain. Some people were killed in an aftershock that measured 5.6 . The main earthquake was about 500 kilometers south of the devastating one that struck Sichuan three months earlier. A survivor in Liangshan prefecture said, “All the houses in our villages have nearly collapsed, and right now we are risking our lives to bring our belongings out of our homes. In our village there are 60 to 70 people who are seriously injured and staying in the playground of our elementary school, We don’t have enough clothes or canvas to shelter ourselves, so we have o sew plastic bags together.”

In December 2008, an earthquake measuring 5.4 the Richter scale struck an area in Sichuan about 150 kilometers from the area devastated by the massive earthquake earlier in the year. Two miners were killed and three others were injured.

In August 2010, an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale struck Sichuan Province, killing at least 32 people, damaging 258,000 homes and leaving about 1.2 million people homeless. Xinhua reported it damaged highways, reservoirs, bridges and hundreds of schools, and forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 people in Sichuan and neighboring Yunnan Province. [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, August 31, 2008] The earthquake was centered near the city of Panzhihua, in the southern part of Sichuan, far south of the May 12 earthquake, according to the state-run news media. It was followed by hundreds of aftershocks. The strongest measured 5.1 on the Richter scale. The tremors were felt as far north as Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, and also in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan to the south. The government said that about 70,000 people in Panzhihua alone were affected by Saturday's earthquake. And in one part of Sichuan, about 660 school buildings were destroyed.

In August 2013, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake killed at least four people in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. CNN reported: Officials reported 10 injuries as emergency teams began to respond, Xinhua said. It quoted Yunnan provincial officials as saying that 600 residential units collapsed. An additional 55,000 residential units were damaged, and 9,200 people had been forced to relocate, Xinhua reported. The quake — with a depth of 10 kilometers — hit in remote areas. Roads were blocked in some villages by boulders rolling down mountains, and 17 people on three tourist buses were trapped by landslides.Xinhua reported it reached a Benzilan resident who said people "rushed outdoors hastily" because of the strength of the quake, but houses there did not collapse. A few days earlier a 5.1-magnitude earthquake hit the same region. The epicenter was near Benzilan Township, the USGS reported. [Source: David Simpson, CNN, August 31, 2013]

In November 2014, a strong earthquake that hit a sparsely populated, mountainous area of Sichuan, killing at least five people and injuring 54 others, many of them schoolchildren hurt in a stampede. Associated Press reported: The USGS said the magnitude-5.9 quake hit about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the town of Kangding in Ganzi prefecture. China’s seismological agency put the magnitude at 6.3. The dead included a woman in her 70s who was struck by a falling window pane, Xinhua said. A stampede at a primary school in Tagong town during the quake injured 42 children, according to Xinhua. Thirty homes collapsed and 2,630 suffered serious damage, the Sichuan information office said. A duty officer at the Kangding county government said the quake lasted only a few seconds. The area is frequently struck by earthquakes, and Xia said newly constructed buildings in the town of Kangding must be able to withstand those of up to 8 in magnitude, although requirements are less strict in the surrounding rural area.[Source: Associated Press, November 23, 2014]

Sichuan Earthquake in April 2013 Kills Over 200

In April 2013 a strong earthquake in Sichuan killed more than 200 people, injured more than 11,000 and left nearly two dozen missing, mostly in the rural communities around Ya'an city, along the same seismic fault where a devastating quake that killed more than 90,000 people in 2008. Associated Press reported: The quake — measured by China's earthquake administration at magnitude 7.0 and by the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.6 — struck shortly after 8 a.m. Tens of thousands of people moved into tents or cars, unable to return home or too afraid to go back as aftershocks continued to jolt the region. Two days after the quake state Xinhua News Agency, quoting provincial emergency officials, said that 192 people were killed, 23 left missing and 11,470 wounded. [Source: AP, April 21, 22, 2013 **]

“Lushan, where the quake struck, lies where the fertile Sichuan plain meets foothills that eventually rise to the Tibetan plateau and sits atop the Longmenshan fault, where the 2008 quake struck. The Lushan and Baoxing counties hardest-hit had escaped the worst of the damage in the 2008 quake, and residents there said they benefited little from the rebuilding efforts, with no reinforcements or new evacuation procedures introduced in their remote communities. **

Jane Perlez and Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “The earthquake, which struck at 8:02 a.m. local time in Ya’an city, occurred 53 miles from the devastating quake in 2008. In one hard-hit township, Longmen, one resident reported that 90 percent of the homes had been destroyed, suggesting the death toll could rise much higher. The Chengdu Evening Paper said 600 people had been injured, 135 of them seriously, in Lushan county, which is part of Ya’an city. Xinhua quoted a hospital official who said scores of injured people were sprawled in front of the county hospital Saturday afternoon. Firefighters in Lushan pulled 27 survivors from collapsed buildings, Xinhua said. The China Earthquake Networks Center said the quake occurred 6 miles beneath the earth’s surface. Scientists said the quake was relatively shallow and thus more destructive. [Source: Jane Perlez and Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 20, 2013 ~~]

“The quake was powerful enough to be felt hundreds of miles away in Yunnan, Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces. In Chongqing, 200 miles away from the epicenter, residents raced down the stairwells of apartment buildings and stood in the streets in their undergarments. As of midday the next day, the number of aftershocks exceeded 200, with 15 of them greater than a magnitude of 4.0. A reporter from the daily newspaper of Ya’an, the area that encompasses Lushan County where the quake epicenter lay, said on China’s Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like service, that residents in Lushan needed tents, blankets, bottled water, food and medicine. Ya’an, which sits on a basin on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, is about 75 miles, from Chengdu. The city, which includes Lushan county, has a population of 1.5 million. ~~

Associated Press reported from Lushan, Sitting near chunks of concrete, bricks and a ripped orange sofa, Luo Shiqiang told how his grandfather was just returning from feeding chickens when their house collapsed and crushed him to death in a powerful earthquake in southwestern China. "We lost everything in such a short time," the 20-year-old college student said. His cousin was injured in the collapse, but other family members were spared because they were working in the fields in hard-hit Longmen village in Lushan county. Luo said he wished more had been done to make his community's buildings quake-resistant. "Maybe the country's leaders really wanted to help us, but when it comes to the lower levels the officials don't carry it out," he said. [Source: AP, April 21, 2013 **]

"I was working in the field when I heard the explosions of the earthquake, and I turned around and saw my house simply flatten in front of me," said Fu Qiuyue, a 70-year-old rapeseed farmer in Longmen. Fu sat with her husband, Ren Dehua, in a makeshift shelter of logs and a plastic sheet on a patch of grass near where a helicopter had parked to reach their community of terraced grain and vegetable fields. She said the collapse of the house had crushed eight pigs to death. "It was the scariest sound I have ever heard," she said. **

Rescue and Relief Efforts After the Sichuan Earthquake in April 2013

Associated Press reported: “Relief teams flew in helicopters and dynamited through landslides to reach some of the most isolated communities, where rescuers in orange overalls led sniffer dogs through piles of brick, concrete and wood debris to search for survivors. Many residents complained that although emergency teams were quick to carry away bodies and search for survivors, they had so far done little to distribute aid. "No water, no shelter," read a hand-written sign held up by children beside a road in Longmen. The Chinese Red Cross said it had deployed relief teams with food, water, medicine and rescue equipment to the disaster areas. As in most natural disasters, the government mobilized thousands of soldiers and others, sending excavators and other heavy machinery as well as tents, blankets and other emergency supplies. Two soldiers died after their vehicle slid off a road and rolled down a cliff, state media reported. [Source: AP, April 21, 2013]

Jane Perlez and Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Rescue efforts were hampered by landslides and officials expressed concern over two barrier lakes that had formed after landslides had blocked two waterways. Photos taken on the highway to Ya’an showed an enormous boulder blocking the way. “Now the houses on both sides of the street have become dangerous buildings,” Zhang Linpeng told the Sichuan news service. “I’ve seen people trapped in the ruins, and some people died. Many of the injured have been pulled out.” According to the state media, more than 7,400 soldiers and armed police and two helicopters had been dispatched to the quake zone. Authorities also sent another 1,400 provincial rescue workers, 180 doctors from a national emergency response team, 120 “professional rescue vehicles” and six search-and-rescue dogs. As a precaution, 80,000 inmates were evacuated from prisons in affected area. [Source: Jane Perlez and Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 20, 2013 ~~]

According to Associated Press: “The seat of Lushan county has been turned into a large refugee camp, with tents set up on open spaces, and volunteers doling out noodles and boxed meals to survivors from stalls and the backs of vans. A large van with a convertible side served as a mobile bank with an ATM, military medical trucks provided X-rays for people with minor injuries, and military doctors administered basic first aid, applying iodine solution to cuts and examining bruises. **

“Patients with minor ailments were lying in tents in the yard of the hospital, which was wrecked by the quake, with the most severely injured patients sent to the provincial capital. With a limited water supply and buildings inaccessible, sanitation is a problem for the survivors. One of the patients receiving care in the hospital's yard was the son of odd-job laborer Zhou Lin, 22. The baby boy was born a day before the quake struck. Zhou said he was relieved that his newborn son and wife were safe and healthy but was worried about his 60-year-old father and other relatives who have been unreachable in Baoxing. "I can't get through on the phone, so I don't know what's going on there and they don't know if we are all right," he said. Every so often, an aftershock struck, shaking windows of buildings and sending murmurs through the crowds. “ **

Jane Perlez and Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “That earthquake prompted a massive official relief effort, and a passionate outpouring of volunteer help. But some quake-stricken residents and observers faulted the government for dispatching rescue efforts to the wrong places, or failing to muster the equipment needed to lift victims from under slaps of concrete and brick. Instead, many troops and rescuers clambered over the rubble with sticks and spades.” [Source: Jane Perlez and Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 20, 2013 ~~]

This time, the government appears intent on avoiding any accusations of laggardness, even if the quake was less destructive than the one in 2008. In one notable gesture, CCTV, the state broadcaster, posted photographs online of Mr. Li and other senior leaders sitting on a plane bound for Sichuan. State media also said that Mr. Li and Chinese President Xi Jinping had convened an emergency meeting earlier in the day to coordinate rescue efforts. In contrast to the earthquake in 2008, when officials restricted independent reporting on the disaster, Ran Wang, a businessman, said he hoped officials would allow greater transparency. “No censorship, no cover ups or control so the right of the people and society to be informed during natural disasters are respected,” he wrote on his microblog account. ~~

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “High school seniors in the disaster area will be moved this week to the provincial capital, Chengdu, along with 30 teachers so that they can continue classes and take the all-important university entrance exam, Xinhua reported.As typically happens after disasters, Chinese with cars were packing them with supplies and heading to the disaster area. Anticipating traffic congestion that could hamper emergency teams, the government was asking volunteers, tourists and others not trained as rescuers to stay out of the disaster area. However, authorities were letting motorcyclists through.Peng Song, 28, an outdoor equipment retailer who biked to Lushan from the provincial capital of Chengdu, had his motorcycle packed with tents and bottled water and was riding with 14 other bikers-turned-volunteers out to remote communities. "Those in the disaster area need help. We just want to offer a hand to them, that's all," Peng said. [Source: Gillian Wong, AP, April 22, 2013 ***]

Portable ATMs and Phone-Charging After the Sichuan Earthquake in April 2013

Two days after the earthquake,Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “The tent village that sprang up in two days to house quake survivors in mountain-flanked Lushan is no ordinary refugee camp. China's full range of disaster response is on display: trucks with X-ray equipment, phone-charging stations, bank tellers-on-wheels — even a tent for insurance claims. The efforts under way in mountainous Sichuan province showed that the government has continued to hone its disaster reaction — long considered a crucial leadership test in China — since a much more devastating earthquake in 2008, also in Sichuan, and another one in 2010 in the western region of Yushu. [Source: Gillian Wong, AP, April 22, 2013 ***]

"Lushan was so heavily hit and my family's house toppled. It has been such a disaster for us," said Yue Hejun, 28, as he waited to recharge his family's three mobile phones at a charging stall, volunteered by a communications company and coordinated by the government in a new addition to the arsenal of services after natural disasters. "If we can charge our phones, we are at least able to keep in touch with our family members outside and that helps to set our minds at ease." ***

“At a mini-clinic with two green cots in the open air and a small tent for doctors to sleep, a doctor said Monday the government has learned the importance of fast coordination since the Yushu quake, which killed more than 2,600 people. Much of the initial relief in that disaster came from Buddhist monks and other non-government volunteers, partly because of the remoteness of much of the affected areas. "After 24 hours or 48 hours in Yushu, things were not so orderly or settled in," said the doctor, who like many government officials would give only her surname, Luo. "The government's quick, organized response is very important. It's no use to blindly come here and try to save people." ***

“Helicopters have been an obvious presence in the latest rescue efforts, used to reach outlying communities, unlike in 2008 when bad weather hampered their use in the critical first 36 hours. This time, better use of helicopters for reconnaissance — with remote sensing technology — and for the distribution of aid has allowed help to get out more quickly to where it is needed, said Teng Wuxiao, director of the Institute of Urban Public Security at Fudan University in Shanghai.” ***

“Beyond the bare necessities, there are also stalls for survivors to make insurance claims, a large vehicle that converts into a bank and ATM-on-wheels, and tents sponsored by Chinese telecoms companies providing numerous electrical extension cords for residents to recharge their electrical gadgets. ***

“Still, complaints were common among the survivors of the latest quake, especially in the more hard-to-reach areas. While aid was being delivered, it was not getting out to all who need it. Yue said family members in his remote mountain village had received no help with shelter and were living under tarpaulins. Huang Mingxian, 47, who was camped out with seven family members in a government-issued blue tent in a small public square, said the government's efforts were appreciated but that supplies were not always distributed fairly. "This morning is the first time in three days that we have gotten instant noodles," Huang said, waving a pair of long chopsticks she was using to stir the noodles in a wok over a gas canister-powered mobile stove. "Other areas have electricity and water, what about us?" ***

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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