YA’AN, China – Rescuers and relief teams struggled to rush supplies into the rural hills of China’s Sichuan province today after an earthquake left at least 179 people dead and more than 6,700 injured and prompted frightened survivors to spend a night in cars, tents and makeshift shelters.
The earthquake Saturday triggered landslides that cut off roads and disrupted phone and power connections in mountainous Lushan county, further south on the same fault line where a devastating quake wreaked widespread damage across the region five years ago.
Hardest hit were villages further up the valleys, where farmers grow rice, vegetables and corn on terraced plots. Rescuers hiked into neighboring Baoxing county after its roads were cut off, reaching it overnight, state media reported. In Longmen village, authorities said nearly all the buildings had been destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking by the quake.
In the fog-covered town of Shuangli, corn farmer Zheng Xianlan said today that she had rushed from the fields back to her home when the quake struck, and cried when she saw that the roof collapsed. She then spent the night outdoors on a worn sofa using a plastic raincoat for cover.
“We don’t earn much money. We don’t know what we will do now,” said 58-year-old Zheng, her eyes welling with tears. “The government only brought one tent for the whole village so far, but that’s not enough for us.”
Along the main roads, ambulances, fire engines and military trucks piled high with supplies waited in long lines, some turning back to try other routes when roads were impassable.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived Saturday afternoon by helicopter in Ya’an to direct rescue efforts, the government’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Xinhua, citing the China Earthquake Administration, said at least 179 people had died, and more than 6,700 were injured.
The quake – measured by China’s earthquake administration at magnitude 7.0 and by the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.6 – struck shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, when many people were at home, sleeping or having breakfast.
Tens of thousands of people moved into tents or cars, unable to return home or too afraid to go back as aftershocks continued to jolt the region.
As in most natural disasters, the government mobilized thousands of soldiers and others, sending excavators and other heavy machinery as well as tents, blankets and other emergency supplies. Two soldiers died after their vehicle slide off a road and rolled down a cliff, state media reported.