Two killed, dozens injured as shallow quake hits China's Sichuan

Beijing (AFP) –


Two people were killed and dozens injured when a shallow earthquake struck southwestern China in the early hours of Thursday, triggering the second-highest level of emergency response by rescuers in Sichuan province.

The quake struck Luxian county before dawn on Thursday around 120 kilometres southwest of the sprawling megacity of Chongqing, which along with its surrounding area is home to around 30 million people.

The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 5.4 but the China Earthquake Networks Centre measured it at magnitude 6.0. Both put it at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres (six miles).

National earthquake authorities said the seismic event left "two dead, three seriously injured and 57 slightly injured."

Dozens of houses in Luxian had collapsed and many others were damaged, while communications to tens of thousands of people had been disrupted, authorities said.

Live footage from Luxian by state broadcaster CCTV showed workers climbing up ladders in pouring rain to remove hazardous debris hanging off buildings, including half-broken panes of glass.

Another video from the Sichuan Daily showed students evacuating their dormitories in the dark, clutching umbrellas and wearing backpacks.

Authorities downplayed the immediate threat of a larger aftershock.

"It is unlikely there will be a larger earthquake in the area in the near future, but aftershocks will continue for some time," Du Bin, deputy chief of the Sichuan Earthquake Administration, told reporters.

State-run CGTN confirmed the death toll, sharing security camera footage showing TVs and refrigerators shaking on the walls of houses as the quake struck, as ornaments smashed onto floors and cracks ran through buildings.

Bricks were strewn across roads and trees felled in some areas as firefighters clawed through the rubble of collapsed houses, the images showed.

Residents were urged to stay outside of their homes, state media reported, although images showed there was little sense of wider panic by residents in an area of high seismic activity.

The USGS said that "significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread", in a preliminary assessment.

Multiple power lines had been disrupted and 62,000 households were hit by power cuts after the earthquake, the local government in Sichuan said in a Weibo post.

Traffic on highways passing through the area has been rerouted to make way for emergency vehicles and to avoid damaged roads, the local government said.

China is regularly hit by earthquakes, especially in its mountainous western and southwestern regions.

A powerful 7.9-magnitude quake in Sichuan province in 2008 left 87,000 people dead or missing.

Among them were thousands of children, killed when poorly constructed school buildings collapsed, but the government failed to release an exact number of dead as the issue took on a political dimension.

Police detained activists who attempted to count the number of children who had died and mark the buildings that collapsed amid suspicions of poor construction.

Thursday's quake comes months after a series of strong earthquakes shook sparsely populated areas in northwest and southwest China in May, killing at least two people and injuring dozens.