By Poornima Weerasekara

Rescuers scoured through rubble for hundreds of missing people in parts of southwestern China on Tuesday after an earthquake killed more than 60, as local weather services warned rain was set to inundate the area.

Rescue workers carry an injured person after a 6.6-magnitude earthquake in Luding county, Ganzi, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, September 5, 2022. Photo: CNS/AFP/China OUT.

The magnitude 6.6 quake hit about 43 kilometres (26 miles) southeast of the city of Kangding in Sichuan province at a depth of 10 kilometres on Monday, according to the US Geological Survey.

At least 65 people were killed, state media reported Tuesday morning, with more than 200 still trapped in a remote scenic area and scores missing elsewhere.

Video from state broadcaster CCTV showed firefighters pulling a bruised and bloodied woman from the rubble and carrying a survivor on a stretcher across a river on a makeshift bridge as well as damaged buildings and streets strewn with fallen masonry.

And footage shared by the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) showed boulders thundering down mountainsides in Luding county, kicking up clouds of dust as the tremors swayed roadside telephone wires.

Sichuan China
Sichuan province in China. Photo: Google Map.

At least one town suffered “severe damage” from landslides triggered by the quake, CCTV reported.

“Before 5 o’clock, I heard a rumbling sound. The house shook so badly that I woke up immediately,” one woman surnamed Zheng from Sichuan’s Lu county told Beijing News.

“My brother’s house collapsed. His house is an old one built more than 10 years ago. My house is newly built, so the situation is better.”

‘All-out to rescue people’

The quake also rocked buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu — where millions are confined to their homes under a strict Covid-19 lockdown — and in the nearby megacity of Chongqing, local residents told AFP.

At least 10 aftershocks of magnitude 3.0 and above had been detected as of 7 am local time (2300 GMT), CCTV said.

The local meteorological department has said Luding county — the epicentre of the quake — will experience rain for three days, potentially hampering rescue work.

Kangding in Sichuan
Kangding city, Sichuan, China. Photo: NoGhost, via Wikicommon

China’s cabinet last night said it has dispatched a special team to lead the efforts, with CCTV reporting more than 6,500 people had been sent to emergency rescue. 

And President Xi Jinping called for local authorities to “make saving lives the first priority, go all-out to rescue people in disaster-stricken areas and minimise loss of life”, according to CCTV.

Local officials have launched a public appeal for donations to help with relief work.

Quake-prone region

Earthquakes are fairly common in China, especially in the country’s seismically active southwest.

A smaller magnitude 4.6 tremor hit eastern Tibet less than an hour after the initial quake, according to the USGS.

A magnitude 8.0 quake in 2008 in Sichuan’s Wenchuan county left tens of thousands dead and caused enormous damage.

Sichuan earthquake building collaspe
A collapsed building after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In June, at least four people were killed and dozens more injured after two earthquakes in southwestern China.

That month, a shallow 6.1-magnitude shock hit a sparsely populated area about 100 kilometres west of Chengdu.

It was followed three minutes later by a second quake of magnitude 4.5 in a nearby county, where the deaths and injuries occurred.

Authorities in Chengdu extended the city’s lockdown on Sunday as they fight a Covid flare-up with hundreds of cases.

The region has also suffered a summer of extreme weather, with a record-breaking heatwave noticeably drying rivers in Chongqing.

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