The death toll has been updated on the twin earthquakes that occurred in Gansu Province in China on Monday. The total has risen to at least 89 dead and nearly 600 injured in the strong quake that shook large parts of northwest China’s Gansu Province.
With several people still reported missing, and the elderly and children the most affected, the toll of casualties could rise even higher.
The larger of the two quakes was a 6.6-magnitude one, according to Beijing’s own China Earthquake Networks Center, and the smaller one registered at 5.6 magnitude.
The USGS rated Monday’s main tremor at seven on its “shakemap,” with shaking perceived to be “very strong” and the potential to cause “moderate” damage.
The two earthquakes affected more than a dozen towns. It demolished buildings, cut off communication lines and triggered landslides and mudslides throughout the province.
By nine in the morning, the first of the aftershocks was felt, one around a 5 magnitude. It was just the beginning — at least 420 more were felt be early evening.
More than 1,200 houses collapsed due to the earthquake, and another 21,000 were severely damaged, according to authorities.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that the tremor set off landslides which buried often crudely constructed local houses.
Photographs from Gansu Province showed simple buildings reduced to rubble, with the pieces of corrugated metal scattered over the wreckage.
The broadcaster quoted a witness as saying in one location 12 people were buried. The man said: “The rescue work is tough, because the house has been completely buried.”
Neighboring areas and the provincial capital, Lanzhou, dispatched thousands of military, police, and rescue personnel from emergency services and fire brigades to the affected areas soon after the earthquake was reported, though the aftershocks made rescue efforts hazardous and difficult, at best.
An added problem was the continuous rain that Gansu Province had experienced over the weekend. More rain is forecast for Tuesday, which is sure to hamper the continuing rescue efforts.
According to eyewitness reports to local officials, trees and houses shook for nearly a minute, and electric poles were uprooted in many places.
Many people could still be trapped under the debris of houses that were demolished by the quake, causing officials to fear that the death and injury toll could rise even higher.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the China Earthquake Networks Centre (CENC) said that the epicenter, with a depth of 20 km, was monitored at 34.521 degrees north latitude and 104.23 degrees east longitude.
The earthquake was also felt by the cities of Xi’an, Baoji and Xianyang in neighboring Shaanxi Province.
Xinhua reported that President Xi Jinping has urged an all-out rescue effort and put “saving life” as the top priority.
With rescue efforts just in the early stages, officials fear that the numbers of dead and injured will increase from the current count of 89 dead and nearly 600 injured.
Written by: Douglas Cobb