China earthquake: 21 dead as Sichuan rocked by powerful 6.8-magnitude tremor

Fallen rocks are seen on a road near Lengqi Town in Luding County, Sichuan after a strong earthquake on 5 September (AP)
Fallen rocks are seen on a road near Lengqi Town in Luding County, Sichuan after a strong earthquake on 5 September (AP)

At least 21 people have died after an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 hit China’s southwestern Sichuan province on Monday, state television reported.

The earthquake hit at 12.52pm local time, and the United States Geological Survey [USGS] estimates that over a million residents experienced the strong tremors in the quake’s aftermath.

The USGS said that the epicentre of the quake was in Luding county at a depth of 16km, about 180km south-west of Sichuan’s capital Chengdu.

Chengdu resident Jiang Danli told The Associated Press: “There was a strong earthquake in June, but it wasn’t very scary. This time I was really scared, because I live on a high floor and the shaking made me dizzy.”

Ms Jiang hid under a desk for five minutes in her 31st floor apartment. She said many of her neighbours rushed downstairs.

A resident of Chengdu, identified only by her second name Chen, was quoted as saying by AFP: “I felt it quite strongly. Some of my neighbours on the ground floor said they felt it very clearly.”

Another resident of Chongqing was quoted saying that the earthquake was “pretty noticeable” and made the lights and furniture in his apartment shake.

A resident of Chengdu named Laura Luo, who was on way to her apartment block when the earthquake hit, recalled seeing people run in panic. “There were many people who were so terrified they started crying,” she told Reuters.

“All the dogs started barking. It was really quite scary,” she added.

State media reported that Monday’s earthquake was also felt in the provinces of Yunnan, Shaanxi and Guizhou.

The USGS had issued earlier a yellow alert for potential “shaking-related fatalities”. It said that “some casualties are possible”.

It also issued an orange alert for economic losses. On its website, it mentioned that “significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread. Estimated economic losses are less than 1 per cent of GDP of China”.

China News Service reported that in Luding, the 6.8 magnitude tremor was felt so strongly that it was hard for some people to remain standing.

Several videos appeared online which showed the extent of shaking the residents experienced. In one such video, the contents of a pot on a stove can be seen shaking violently. A man can also be seen holding on to an aquarium which is trembling and splashing water on the floor.

In another video shared by Xinhua News, debris could be seen from a building that seems to have been razed to the ground due to the earthquake, and residents seem to be screaming out of fear.

Local authorities said that they have dispatched 600 rescue workers and are also in the process of assessing the damage to houses, roads and telecommunications.

Another Chengdu resident Samantha Yang, 23, was quoted as saying by Reuters that “the building kept shaking, each time more severely than before.” She added: “Truly, this was the scariest one since the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.” That quake registered as magnitude 8.0 and killed more than 68,000 people in Sichuan.

In June, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake in Ya’an in Sichuan province killed four and injured several others.