At least 19 people were killed and about 250 others injured in the powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake that jolted a mountainous region in China’s southwest Sichuan province rose to 19 on Wednesday with rescuers racing against time to find survivors buried in the rubble.
The massive temblor that struck the popular tourist destination on Tuesday night was followed by another quake of 6.6-magnitude in the Xinjiang province on Wednesday morning in which at least three persons were injured.
The massive earthquake in Sichuan struck at 9:19 pm (local time) on Tuesday and the epicentre was monitored at a depth of 20 km, state-run Xinhua new agency reported.
Jiuzhaigou, or Jiuzhai Valley, is a national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations. More than 34,000 people visited the tourist attraction on Tuesday.
The death toll in the quake in Sichuan has risen to 19, with 247 injured, including 40 seriously, local authorities said.
The injured included a French man and a Canadian woman.
Maxence Vallon, 18, was wounded in both legs; while the Canadian woman, who declined to be named, suffered slight injury in the head, the report said. Both were being treated at a hospital of Jiuzhaigou county.
The exact number of casualties of foreign nationals in the disaster was not immediately known.
“We were lying on an open ground to seek shelter when a big stone fell and hit my brother right in the leg,” said Romain Vallon, who studies in Beijing.
The brothers were staying in a hotel with their mother in Jiuzhaigou when the quake struck.
Five among the dead were visitors to the Jiuzhaigou national park, China Earthquake Networks Centre said.
So far 31,500 tourists have been relocated.
Tourist coaches and private vehicles have been pressed into service to help transport the stranded tourists.
Power, communication and water supply in the county seat have been restored.
So far, the Jiuzhaigou county has dispatched more than 90 emergency vehicles and 1,200 personnel for the rescue work. The county also sent consultants to hotels, rural inns and streets to offer possible counselling service to tourists.
The quake was felt in the provincial capital Chengdu, about 300 km south of the epicentre, and other regions in the neighbouring provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi, the report said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for all-out efforts to rapidly organise relief work and rescue the injured people.
Authorities should check the impact of the earthquake, evacuate and settle visitors and local people, and reduce death and injuries as much as possible, Xi said.
As the earthquake took place during the flood period and tourism season, authorities should enhance meteorological early warning and geological monitoring to guard against other disasters and try their best to protect people’s lives and property, he added.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang also urged local authorities to go all out in relief and monitoring work.
China’s cabinet, the State Council, have sent a national work team to the disaster-hit area to guide relief work. Local governments have also activated top-level emergency response procedures.
The Western Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army, which oversees Sichuan province, upgraded aviation traffic control in the quake zone last night to make way for rescue mission flights, the PLA Daily reported.
Relief aid will be dropped in the quake zone by transport aircraft.
The province’s paramilitary police has also sent out forces with life detecting equipment to search for survivors who may be buried under rubble, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
All three of the country’s major telecommunications firms have sent technicians to the quake zone to fix damaged networks.
Shen Ji, director of the provincial health and family planning commission, said more than 30 ambulances and over 500 health personnel had gone to the affected areas.
The disease control and prevention centre has sent a team to assess health risks and prevent epidemics.
A 200-member health aid team from neighbouring Gansu province is standing by.
Staff and pandas at the nearby China Conservation and ResearchCenter for the Giant Panda were unaffected.
Wang Zhibin, a police officer in Jiuzhaigou, said falling rocks and landslides had blocked roads, which were largely cleared by 5 am.
Rescuers were struggling to reach eight seriously injured people, trapped in debris. Falling rocks brought by aftershocks have hampered their efforts.
Around 6 am, the first emergency rescue flight carrying a team of nearly 100 arrived at the Jiuzhai-Huanglong Airport, the transportation hub for relief work.
The National Earthquake Response Support Service sent two light helicopters carrying seismologists, medicine and relief goods to JiuzhaiValley.
On Wednesday morning, Xinhua reporters saw tourists sitting in front of their hotels, wrapped in quilts. A tourist, surnamed Liu, said that they had stayed up all night.
The Tibetan hotel owner gave all quilts and blankets in the hotel to the tourists and lit a bonfire to keep them warm, Liu said.
The disaster reduction center of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, based on a preliminary assessment, predicted that 24,000 rooms have collapsed or been severely damaged.
Sichuan is a quake-prone region. In May 2008, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan and killed more than 80,000 people. In 2013, a 7.0-magnitude quake hit Lushan, in which 196 people were killed.
The second quake struck China’s Xinjiang province.
Three villagers were rushed to hospital after their home collapsed in a 6.6-magnitude earthquake that jolted Jinghe county in Bortala Mongolian autonomous prefecture in Xinjiang province, Xinhua reported.
Many residents in Jinghe county said strong tremors were felt at the time of the quake.