Strong Sichuan quake kills 179

BEIJING - The second powerful earthquake in five years struck the steep hills of China's southwestern Sichuan province on Saturday, leaving at least 179 people dead and more than 5,500 injured.

  • Published: 21/04/2013 at 12:04 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

This aerial photo released by Xinhua news agency shows destroyed houses in the wake of the powerful earthquake that hit Taiping town of Lushan County. (AP Photo)

Saturday's quake, while not as destructive as the one in 2008, toppled buildings, triggered landslides and disrupted phone and power connections in mountainous Lushan county.

At least 10,000 homes were destroyed, the Sichuan government said as rescue workers searched through the rubble for survivors.

The village of Longmen was hit particularly hard, with authorities saying nearly all the buildings there had been destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking by the quake.

"It was such a big quake that everyone was scared," said a woman who answered the phone at a kindergarten hours later and declined to give her name. "We all fled for our lives."

About 6,000 soldiers and police were heading to the area to help rescue work and five drones were sent to capture aerial images, Xinhua said.

Some teams had to contend with roads blocked by debris, state television CCTV reported, while one military vehicle carrying 17 troops plummeted over a cliff, killing one soldier and injuring seven others, Xinhua said.

"There are mountains on all sides, it is very easy to trigger mudslides and very dangerous," one user wrote on Sina Weibo microblog site.

This bride, also a TV journalist, interrupted her wedding to cover the quake for Chinese TV. (Photo from Chinese social media)

CCTV showed one survivor receiving stitches for his head on the street, and another elderly man being pushed in a wheelbarrow padded with blankets past a row of tents set up outside a Lushan hospital.

A local TV journalist due to get married on Saturday turned up instead for work and a photograph of her holding a microphone in her wedding dress with bright makeup and a corsage was widely circulated online.

Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Sichuan in the afternoon and took a helicopter to the quake zone. "Life is the most important thing and the top priority is saving lives," he said.

The first 24 hours was "the golden time for saving lives", he was quoted as saying.

The shallow earthquake struck Sichuan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau just after 8am, prompting a major rescue operation in the same area where 87,000 people were reported dead or missing in the massive 2008 quake.

Earthquakes frequently strike the country's southwest. In April 2010, a 6.9 magnitude quake killed about 2,700 people and injured 12,000 in a remote area of Qinghai province bordering the northwest of Sichuan.

Local seismologists registered the quake at magnitude 7.0 while the US Geological Survey gave it as 6.6. More than 260 aftershocks followed, the People's Daily said on its website.

The shaking was felt in the provincial capital Chengdu, which lies to the east, and even in the megacity of Chongqing several hundred kilometres (miles) away.

Panicked residents fled into the streets, some of them still in their slippers and pyjamas.

"Members of my family were woken up. They were lying in bed when the strong shaking began and the wardrobes began shaking strongly," said a 43-year-old Chongqing resident surnamed Wang. "We grabbed our clothes and ran outside."

"We have pulled 13 people out of the rubble, including 10 alive," local official Luo Bin told Xinhua in the village of Gucheng.

"We are not sure whether more people are buried underneath but the search will go on," he said.

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