Shallow M6.2 earthquake strikes northwest China, leaving over 140 fatalities, 14 000 homes damaged

Deadly M6.2 earthquake strikes northwest China, leaving over 100 fatalities, nearly 5 000 homes damaged

At least 118 people were killed and hundreds injured after a shallow M6.2 earthquake hit northwest China on Monday, prompting urgent rescue efforts in harsh winter conditions. The number of fatalities is expected to continue rising.

A shallow M6.2 earthquake struck northwest China at 15:59 UTC (23:59 local time) on December 18, 2023, causing significant casualties and damage. Chinese state media reported on Tuesday that at least 118 people have died, with hundreds more injured as rescue teams work tirelessly to reach survivors in the freezing cold.

The USGS registered the quake as M5.9 at a depth of 10 km (6 miles), while the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) recorded it as M6.2. The epicenter was in Jishishan County, Gansu Province, near the border with Qinghai, a mountainous region on the Tibetan plateau’s edge.

M6.0 earthquake Gansu-Qinghai border region, China december 18 2023 location map z
Image credit: TW/SAM, Google
YouTube video
YouTube video

Yesterday’s quake led to widespread house and road damage in Jishishan County. Rescuers are searching for survivors trapped under rubble, with affected residents facing the bitter cold overnight.

As of Tuesday morning, Gansu’s provincial authorities reported that 105 people had been killed, 397 injured, and over 4 700 houses damaged. Neighboring Qinghai province reported 13 deaths, 182 injuries, and 20 missing persons.

President Xi Jinping has called for comprehensive search and rescue operations, emphasizing the need for quick allocation of relief supplies and repairing essential infrastructure. He has also insisted on adequate arrangements for the displaced to ensure their basic living needs in the aftermath of the quake.

Nearly 4 000 firefighters, soldiers and police officers were deployed or placed on standby.

This is the deadliest China has experienced since August 3, 2014, when a M6.1 tremor struck Yunnan Province, resulting in 617 deaths and 112 individuals unaccounted for. Prior to that, on April 14, 2010, an M6.9 earthquake in Qinghai Province’s Yushu region caused 2 698 fatalities and left 270 missing.

Historically, the deadliest earthquake in China occurred on July 27, 1976, when a M7.5 earthquake devastated Tangshan in Hebei Province, claiming over 300 000 lives. Following that in severity was the M7.8 earthquake on December 16, 1920, in Haiyuan County, Ningxia Province, which resulted in the deaths of more than 265 000 people.

Updates

19:00 UTC, December 19

Half of one village in Minhe County was engulfed in mud, killing 19 people. The village is located about 10 km (6.2 miles) from the epicenter.

As of 18:00 UTC on December 19, the earthquake’s death toll has exceeded 120, with over 700 people injured. Authorities expect fatalities to rise as the extent of the damage becomes clearer. Over 5 000 buildings have been impacted by the quake, many of which were struck by subsequent mudslides, and numerous roads have suffered damage due to landslides.

The widespread destruction has been partly attributed by local media to the poor quality of building construction in the affected villages, with many homes being older structures made of clay.

Search and rescue operations are currently underway, with teams facing harsh conditions as temperatures plummeted to -13 °C (8.7 °F).

11:00 UTC, December 22

The number of fatalities has risen to 144, with over 14 000 homes reported destroyed. State media reports that hundreds of temporary one-room housing units were established yesterday.

Rescue efforts continue as teams navigate through heavy mudslides that have engulfed two villages in Qinghai province, leaving three people still missing.

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