Deadly Earthquake in Northwestern China Claims at Least 118 Lives

A devastating earthquake in the northwestern region of China has resulted in the death of at least 118 people, marking the deadliest seismic event in the country in the past decade, according to provincial officials. The quake, which occurred in the frigid, mountainous region of Gansu province, prompted emergency authorities to call for an additional 300 workers to assist in search and rescue operations amid the rubble of collapsed buildings.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.2, also resulted in over 500 injuries, significant damage to homes and infrastructure, and the disruption of power and communication lines. The quake’s epicenter was near the border of Gansu and neighboring Qinghai province, where 20 people were reported missing due to a landslide. The quake was relatively shallow, occurring just over 10 miles beneath the surface, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center, although the U.S. Geological Survey recorded a slightly lower magnitude of 5.9.

By Tuesday morning, the death toll in Gansu had reached 105, with an additional 397 people injured, 16 of whom were in critical condition. In Qinghai, 13 people were reported dead and 182 injured. The quake was felt as far away as Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, located approximately 60 miles northeast of the epicenter.

Images and videos shared by a student at Lanzhou University depicted students evacuating a dormitory building and standing outside in their pajamas, covered by long down jackets. The student, Wang Xi, described the earthquake as “too intense,” causing his legs to weaken as he and others fled the building.

The death toll from this earthquake is the highest since a quake in April 2013 in Sichuan province, which claimed 196 lives. The most deadly earthquake in recent Chinese history occurred in 2008, when a 7.9 magnitude quake in Sichuan resulted in nearly 90,000 deaths and widespread devastation.

The epicenter of the recent quake was in Jishishan county in Gansu, close to the provincial border with Qinghai and about 800 miles southwest of Beijing. The area, home to several predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and near some Tibetan communities, experienced nine aftershocks within 10 hours of the initial quake.

In response to the disaster, tents, folding beds, and quilts were being dispatched to the affected area. Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for a comprehensive search and rescue effort to minimize casualties. The Beijing Youth Daily reported a need for generators, long coats, and fuel for stoves, among other items, due to the frigid temperatures in the area.

At least 4,000 firefighters, soldiers, and police officers were dispatched to assist in the rescue effort. Han Shujun, a spokesperson for the Gansu provincial emergency management department, urged people to avoid the quake-hit areas to prevent traffic congestion that could impede rescue and relief work.

The Ministry of Emergency Management released a video showing emergency workers in orange uniforms attempting to move heavy debris. Other videos showed workers assisting victims and helping an unsteady individual walk in an area covered with light snow. Damage to water and electricity lines, as well as transportation and communication infrastructure, was reported.

Earthquakes are not uncommon in the mountainous region of western China, which forms the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. In September of last year, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province resulted in 93 deaths.