Xinjiang Gansu, and Qinghai Provinces in western China get hit fairly often by earthquakes. On 24 February 2003, a 6.4 magnitude quake in Southern Xinjiang killed at least 260 people and injured 4,000. It was recorded as the deadliest earthquake of the year worldwide. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

In April 1990, an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale hit northwestern Qinghai Province, killing 126 people. in October 2003 in a desert area in Gansu, measuring 6.1 and 5.8 on the Richter scale, killed 9, injured 43, mainly in collapsed buildings, and left cracks in dams that raised worried about flooding. In January 2007, a 4.3 magnitude earthquake struck neat Lanzhou in Gansu Province, thousands of buildings were damaged but there were few injuries,

Earthquakes in Northern China

Northern China also gets hit by earthquakes. The destructive Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 wasn't very far from Beijing. Seismic fault lines also run north to south through the eastern region of China and the Manchurian Plain. Some places here, including Beijing, are densely populated and earthquakes that have struck here have been devastating. In July, 1976, Tangshan, about 165 kilometer (102 miles) east of Beijing, was hammered by an earthquake resulting in more than 500,000 deaths. [Source: Geo-Data: The World Geographical Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2003]

In October 1989, a series of earthquakes in Shanxi and Hebei Provinces killed 126 people and left 60,000 homeless. An earthquake in May 1996, measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale, struck Inner Mongolia, killed 15 people and injured more than 200. The quake was followed by more than 400 aftershocks.

An earthquake in January 1998 in the northern province of Hebei, measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, killed 49 people and severely injured more than 2,000. Many of the dead were in mud and brick homes in two counties. This earth truck at 11 o'clock and shook Shangyi in Hebei Province. A total of 11,439 people were injured. It caused significant economic damages. More than 19 cities and nearly 170,000 people in Zhangbei, Shangyi, Wanquan and Kangding were affected. Because the structure, location and the quality of the houses was poor in terms of resisting earthquakes, the earthquake damaged most of them. The economic loss reached almost 1 billion yuan and accounted for 44.6 percent of economic losses due to natural disasters in 1998. Neighboring also suffered great economic losses. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

An earthquake in June 2002 struck the northeast province of Jilin, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, but caused relatively little damage and produced no casualties. The region has a history of deep source earthquakes that cause little damage. In March 2003, there was an earthquake that measured 5.9 on the Richter scale in Inner Mongolia. Many homes were damaged but no one was hurt. In January 2004, three people were killed and six were missing after a tsunami suddenly emerged off the coast of Jiangsu Province and swept away two two tractors carrying peasants, who were on the shore collecting seaweed.

In 2005, there were 13 earthquakes measuring 5 or higher. In November 2005, an earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale struck Ruichnag city in central Jiangxi Province and parts of Hubei Province, killing at least 16 people, injuring 377, destroying 150,000 homes and forcing a half million people to sleep outside out of fear of aftershocks. A man who dashed out his house during the first wave of shaking told AP, “I felt very strong shocks, lasting about six or seven seconds. We fled immediately .” Among those injured were students caught in stampede during an evacuation. It was the most powerful earthquake to strike central China in 60 years.

In October 2006, an area near the Three Gorges Dam experienced a magnitude 4.7 earthquake. Some houses shifted on their foundations. A total of 4,318 houses in 39 villages were slightly damaged, More than 6,000 people were temporarily relocated. No injuries were reported. In November 2006, a relatively small earthquake measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale struck Inner Mongolia, damaging 5,500 houses, including 1,353 that sustained serious damage.

Predicted Earthquake in Northern China in 1975

On February 4, 1975, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Haicheng in Liaoning Province, It affected an area of 760 square kilometers, including a crowded industrial area, but thanks to a successful earthquake forecast, the largest earthquake in the area in the history caused comparatively little damage. Most the people in area evacuated their houses and fewer people were killed than expected. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

A total of 2041 people died but the dead and hurt greatly was only 0.3 percent of the total population in this area. The economic loss was about 810 Millions yuan, including damage to infrastructure, machinery, equipment and others. A sand-sprout hole measuring 2.5 meters in diameter opened up. There was an earthquake fracture zone of 5.5 kilometers long that closed a road. Its widest point was 40 meters. The damage in Yingcou City, covered 53.1 percent of the total area. The government organized and arranged emergency rescues. It has been estimated that the number of the dead and hurt could have exceeded 150,000 and economic losses could have been 50 billions yuan if the earthquake had not been forecast.

Earthquake Rumors Shake Shanxi

In February 2010, tens of thousands of people in Shanxi province grabbed prized possessions and fled their houses in the middle of the night following rumors of an imminent earthquake, According to the China Daily: The rumor — which is believed to have started after a series of earthquake drills at local hospitals — warned that a destructive 6.0 magnitude quake would strike in the cities of Jinzhong, Changzhi, Jincheng and Taiyuan, the provincial capital. [Source: Wang Qian in Beijing and Sun Ruisheng, China Daily, February 22, 2010]

“The chaos forced officials at the Shanxi provincial earthquake administration to officially deny the rumor on its website. Officials called for calm and warned that only the provincial government could release an earthquake forecast. Lang Xiaojing, a resident in Taiyuan, said she was very frightened when she first heard the rumor. "I received two phone calls from my friends at about 4 am and was told that the earthquake would happen at about 6 am. Then I saw many people and cars were moving out into the streets," she said.

“Lang said she woke her husband and son, removed 20,000 yuan ($2,900) that she had stored in a bedside table, called her brother and then fled the house. When they emerged from the property, hundreds of residents were already outside discussing the rumor of the imminent earthquake. Later, residents received a text message from the provincial government that denied the rumor and encouraged residents to return to their houses.

“According to local media reports, the rumor began after earthquake emergency drills were conducted in local hospitals between Jan 6-13 this year. Shanxi Youth Daily reported that a text message circulated among residents in January saying: "Recently hospitals have been busy with earthquake drills and storing supplies of medicines. This shows that a strong earthquake seems likely to happen. Please prepare for the coming quake and avoid staying in buildings." The newspaper reported that this message was later modified to say that an earthquake warning was listed on the official website of the provincial earthquake administration and was predicted to be 6.0 in magnitude.

“As rumors about the earthquake grew, more people panicked and tried to warn their friends and relatives. The People's Daily Online reported that people used loudspeakers to wake their neighbors in some villages. Locals were told that they should get out of bed and leave their houses to avoid injury in the earthquake. Many moved their household appliances out of the house.

“This is not the first time that the provincial earthquake administration has denied the quake rumors. On Jan 22, officials at the provincial and city earthquake administrations said experts believed there would be no destructive earthquakes in Shanxi in the near future. “However, two days later, the China Earthquake Administration detected a 4.8 magnitude- earthquake in the province's Yuncheng county, which caused damage to hundreds of houses.

Earthquakes in Xinjiang

In August 1985, an earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale killed 67 people and injured more than 100 in Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In 1995, a 6.9 earthquake killed at least 24 in northwestern Xinjiang. Five earthquakes measuring more than five on the Richter scale hit Artush in the Kashgar region between March 1996 and 1998.

A huge earthquake, measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, hit the border region between Xinjiang and Qinghai but struck such a remote area no one was killed or injured. The quake occurred in Kunlun mountains at an altitude of 5,000 to 6,000 meters. The nearest population center, Golmud, was 350 kilometers away.

In 1997, 11 earthquakes struck Xinjiang. One measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale in January of that year struck the Jiashi area and killed 50 people and injured more than 40. One in April measuring 6.6 killed nine and injured 60. An earthquake in March 1996, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale struck 120 kilometers north Jiashi and killed 26 people and injured 128.

In February 2003, a powerful earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit the area around the town of Jiashi near Kashgar and the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan border. At least 268 people were killed and over 4,000 were injured and hundreds of homes were destroyed. Another earthquake in Xinjiang, near Kazakhstan, the same year, measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale, killed 10 people and destroyed 700 homes. Chinese acted to quickly to bring help and relief to the region. Even so many of the Uighurs that lived in the region blamed the Han Chinese. One Uighar man told Reuters, “Han people kept using explosives to take oil from around here. This earthquake came because they took the oil”

In February 2004, there was an earthquake that measured 6.2 on the Richter scale in the Uighur region of Xinjiang. Many buildings were damaged in Wushi county. In July 2007, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake destroyed about 4,600 homes and damaged 7,800 others in northwest Xinjiang . There were no human fatalities or serious injuries. Around 400 livestock animals died, mostly in 40 livestock sheds that collapsed.

Earthquakes in Xinjiang in the 2010s

In June 2012, a strong earthquake jolted Xinjiang's far-western frontier, shaking buildings and cutting off electricity in the remote mountainous area and injuring at least 17 people. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude-6.3, while China's Earthquake Networks Center put it at 6.6. The Xinjiang regional government reported no deaths but said 17 people were injured. China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said most of the victims were tourists. Associated Press reported" Residents near the epicenter were shaken out of bed in pre-dawn darkness and some households lost electricity, Xinhua reported. The quake toppled several buildings 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the west in the regional capital, Urumqi, Xinhua said, adding that rescuers had been dispatched to the sparsely populated area to search for casualties. An official from the Xinjiang Earthquake Bureau said the quake was "strongly felt" in Urumqi. The man, who gave only his surname, Jian, said Urumqi residents rushed into the streets when the quake hit but returned home after 6 a.m. [Source: Associated Press, June 29, 2012]

In July 2015, six people were and dozens were injured after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake damaged more than 5,000 houses and other buildings in the Pishan county in the Hotan region of Xinjiang. The quake occurred at a depth of about 10 kilometers (6 miles). “Buildings were trembling and people rushed to the streets,” Jin Xingchang said, an express courier in Hotan city, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Pishan. Security camera footage shows items being rattled around and bottles thrown from store shelves. Photos taken in the area show people standing among fallen bricks that are now rubble. In Atushi City, 295 kilometers away from Pishan County, residents also felt the quake when it struck the county. Pishan is at the southern edge of the Taklamakan desert near the border with India and is rich in natural resources including coal, crude oil, natural gas and jade. It is a mostly ethnic Muslim Uighur area. A total of 22 military medical teams were dispatched to quake-hit Pishan County. [Source: AFP, Associated Press, July 3, 2015]

In November 2016, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 struck China’s northwestern border with Tajikistan in Xinjiang killing at least one person, destroying houses and severing a railway line. State news agency Xinhua says rescue teams in the Xinjiang region have been sent to help isolated communities on China’s mountainous border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Xinhua reported a villager in the county died when their house collapsed. Six houses were also found cracked or collapsed, the state news agency said, citing local authorities. The China Earthquake Administration has activated a level III emergency response. The US Geological Survey said the quake had a depth of 75 kilometers and struck the area at around 10.24pm. [Source: Reuters, November 26, 2016]

In May 2017, a shallow earthquake, about eight kilometers deep, in the remote Taxkorgan County area of Kashgar Prefecture in Xinjiang killed eight people and injured 11. Xinhua reported that some building walls had been cracked or had collapsed. [Source: Reuters, May 11, 2017]

Strong Earthquake Strikes Gangsu in July 2013

In July 2012, at least 94 people were killed when a strong earthquake, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, struck Gansu Province in northwest China. Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “Rescuers with shovels and sniffer dogs combed through collapsed hillsides in a farming region of northwest China. Just one person was listed as missing and 1,001 as injured in the quake near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province. About 123,000 people were affected by the quake, with 31,600 moved to temporary shelters, the provincial earthquake administration said. Almost 2,000 homes were completely destroyed, and about 22,500 damaged, the administration said. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press July 22, 23 2013]

“The quake toppled brick walls and telephone lines, shattered mud-and-tile-roofed houses and sent cascades of dirt and rock down hillsides that blocked roads and slowed rescue efforts by crews trying to reach remote areas. Hospitals set up aid stations in parking lots to accommodate large numbers of injured, while hundreds of paramilitary People's Armed Police fanned out to search for victims in the region of terraced farmland where the quake struck about 1,200 kilometers (760 miles) west of Beijing. "I saw the bulb hanging from the ceiling start swinging wildly around. I woke my two friends and we ran into the bathroom to hide," said arts student Li Jingui, 21, who was on the fourth floor of a school dormitory in Dingxi when the shaking started. "After the strongest tremors were over, we were worried that there would be aftershocks so we packed our stuff and ran out into a large clearing," Li said in a telephone interview.

“Damage was worst in Min county in Dingxi's rural southern portion, where scores of homes were damaged and telephone and electricity services knocked out, Dingxi Mayor Tang Xiaoming told state broadcaster CCTV. All but three of the deaths, all the missing and most of the injured were in Min, a likely result of shoddy construction. Residents said the shaking lasted about one minute, but wasn't strong enough to cause major damage in urban areas, where buildings are more solidly built.

“Tremors were felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 177 kilometers (110 miles) north, and as far away as Xi'an, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east. The government's earthquake monitoring center said the quake was magnitude-6.6, while the U.S. Geological Survey said it was 5.9. Measurements can often vary, especially if different monitoring equipment is used. The quake was shallow, which can be more destructive. The central government said it was about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) deep, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) deep.

“Gansu province, a region of mountains, desert and pastureland with a population of 26 million, is one of China's more lightly populated provinces, although the New Jersey-sized area of Dingxi has a greater concentration of farms in rolling hills terraced for crops and fruit trees. Dingxi has a total population of about 2.7 million. The Chinese Red Cross said it was shipping 200 tents, 1,000 sets of household items, and 2,000 jackets to the area and sending teams from both Lanzhou and Beijing to help with relief work and assess further needs. Other supplies were being shipped in by the army and paramilitary police, which dispatched around 6,000 personnel and two helicopters to aid in rescue efforts. Heavy rain is expected in the area later in the week, raising the need for shelter and increasing the chance of further landslides.

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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