China earthquake death toll rises to 131 as rescuers say more survivors unlikely

Rescue operations called off in Gansu province to focus on treating injured

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Wednesday 20 December 2023 14:44 GMT
Comments
Houses collapse after 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit China

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

The death toll in China's deadliest earthquake in a decade has risen to 131, as rescuers brave freezing temperatures to search for bodies trapped under debris.

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake jolted Jishishan county, near the border of Gansu and Qinghai provinces, just before midnight on Monday, sending residents out of their houses into a freezing night.

The Chinese authorities said on Wednesday that thousands of people working in sub-zero temperatures were nearing the end of their rescue operation, and would now focus on treating the injured.

At least 113 people were found dead in Gansu province, with 782 people injured, according to Chinese state media. The death toll in the neighbouring Qinghai province is 18 with 198 injured.

Chinese president Xi Jinping pressed thousands of firefighters, police officers, soldiers and about 400 medics into action to pull the injured out of the rubble and treat the victims.

Rescue operations were hindered by the intense cold snap that has gripped most of China since last week, plunging temperatures around the quake epicentre in Gansu to -15C on Tuesday night.

The tremor razed nearly 15,000 houses and left another 207,000 partially damaged, affecting more than 145,000 people. In Gansu province, the rescue operations were called off on Tuesday after 78 people were found alive, state media CCTV said, citing officials.

Earthquake-affected residents look on beside aid tents erected in a school compound in the village of Gaoli, in Jishishan
Earthquake-affected residents look on beside aid tents erected in a school compound in the village of Gaoli, in Jishishan (Getty)

At least 900 survivors were forced to stay the night in makeshift camps, while some sheltered outside, around bonfires.

Du Haiyi, 21, said he managed to save his mother and younger sister who were trapped under the debris of his flattened family home in Haidong.

“My parents were pulled out from underneath this, but I don’t know how,” Mr Du said. “We ran to wherever we could.”

Some of the relatives of the earthquake victims defied the weather to bury the dead.

Ma Lianqiang, left, stands near the body of his wife Han Suofeiya, who was killed in the village of Yangwa
Ma Lianqiang, left, stands near the body of his wife Han Suofeiya, who was killed in the village of Yangwa (AP)

The earthquake affected 22 towns and villages, two of them within 30miles of the epicentre in Qinghai province suffering the worst damage.

Minhe county in Haidong earlier recorded 20 missing people from two villages, where a mudslide triggered by the earthquake swept through, half-burying many buildings in brown silt.

“We have prepared coats with extra cotton, like military coats, and then some things to keep warm like heating equipment,” said Wu Saying, a rescue volunteer in Haidong.

People complained about the lack of food supplies.

“I didn’t have anything to eat yesterday, and today I’m eating the food left in the house,” said Bao Yinzi, 53. “The pot is buried, the bowl is buried. There’s nothing left.”

Authorities were still searching for 16 people missing in Qinghai province.

Gansu is one of China’s poorest regions, bordering Mongolia, and between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus. The scale of the damage in Gansu has been attributed to houses being built of clay and mud, according to experts and local authorities. The fact that the quake struck late at night made escape more difficult.

Monday's earthquake comes more than a decade after a 7.9-magnitude tremor jolted the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008, killing more than 90,000 people.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in