Strong Earthquake Hits Sichuan; Dozens Killed

A strong earthquake struck Sichuan province on Saturday morning, centered on Ya’an city’s Lushan county about 70 miles west of Chengdu. Its magnitude was rated at 7.0 by the China Earthquake Networks Center, and at 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey. A series of aftershocks of between 4.5 and 5.1 followed.

The death toll climbed steeply to as high as 72 by early afternoon, as premier Li Keqiang and over 2,000 soldiers scrambled to the quake zone. From Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley at The New York Times:

The state-run news agency, Xinhua, said there were “serious collapses” of homes, with many old houses in Lushan destroyed. The Sichuan news service said that an official there said many people had been trapped in the collapsed homes.

[…] The memories of the devastating earthquake in May 2008 in which poorly constructed school buildings collapsed and killed thousands of students caused extra nervousness that Saturday’s quake would result in a much higher number of fatalities.

The earthquake in 2008 prompted a massive official relief effort, and a passionate outpouring of volunteer help. But some quake-stricken residents and observers faulted the government for putting rescue efforts in the wrong places, or failing to muster the equipment needed to lift victims from under slaps of concrete and brick. Instead, many troops and rescuers clambered over the rubble with sticks and spades. This time, the government appears intent on avoiding any accusations of laggardness, even if the quake is less destructive than the one in 2008.

An uncomfortable echo of the school collapses in 2008 appeared on Sina Weibo, in a photograph purportedly showing a kindergarten destroyed by Saturday’s quake:

The disaster took place on the Longmenshan fault, source of the 2008 earthquake. From the U.S. Geological Survey:

Four events of Mw6.0 or greater have occurred within 200km of the April [20] event in the past 40 years, including the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake and a subsequent aftershock. The northwestern margin of the Sichuan Basin has previously experienced destructive earthquakes. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake of August 25, 1933, killed more than 9,300 people, while the May 12, 2008 killed 69,197.

Tea Leaf Nation’s Liz Carter watched as news of the quake spread on Sina Weibo, where local reporter Chen Ying won acclaim for abandoning her wedding to cover the disaster, still in her white dress.

Some users commented on official updates to add information. “The earthquake was felt in Guizhou,” wrote one. Another added, “I was sleeping in Changsha [Hunan province]; it woke me up.” Others simply offered prayers for the safety of those affected. Even Xinhua’s official Weibo presence extended a heartfelt wish: “We pray together for the safety of those in the disaster area.”

[…] Ran Wang, an investor and businessman, posted his own hopes for the aftermath:

Hopes for the Ya’an Earthquake: 1) Rescue efforts are timely and orderly, keeping deaths and injuries as low as possible 2) media are permitted to report freely, and there is no censorship, cover-ups, or control, the rights of the people and society to be informed during natural disasters is respected; 3) NGOs are allowed to actively help in accordance with clear regulations and under third-party supervision, official charity organizations are not given the opportunity to steal money.