The death toll from a strong earthquake that hit southwest China on Saturday has climbed to 180, but the disaster appears much less severe than the traumatic quake that killed 90,000 people in the same province five years ago.
“There will not be thousands or tens of thousands of casualties,” Xinhua, the official news agency, quoted an earthquake response agency official as saying.
The quake had the biggest impact in Lushan, a country in Ya’an city about 125km southwest of the provisional capital of Chengdu. China recorded the magnitude as 7, while the US Geological Survey put the figure at 6.6.
In Longmen, a village about 10km from the epicentre in Taiping, most houses were damaged. Villagers spent Saturday night outside, as the region registered more than 1,000 aftershocks. But the scene was not one of massive destruction as seen in the 2008 quake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.
The government-led rescue operation was swift and co-ordinated. Travel from Longmen to Taiping was slowed down by rescue vehicles carrying casualties out.
Kevin Xia from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said while the centre of Lushan, the hardest-hit county, was getting back to normal, there were difficulties getting supplies in because of congested roads.
Chen Yong, a senior official of the local earthquake response office in Ya’an, told reporters the death toll was unlikely to rise much more.
“We understand the situation in most areas,” he said according to Reuters. “Most of the casualties have been reported. In some remote mountain areas, it is possible that we don’t fully understand the situation.”
State media said the number of injured had risen to more than 11,000. The government warned of landslides in several parts of Lushan and the neighbouring county of Baoxing.
One big uncertainty was the situation in Baoxing, another county west of Lushan, where road access was blocked. The People’s Armed Police, the paramilitary force also involved in disaster response, reached Baoxing late Saturday night, but were stuck on a blocked road on Sunday morning, according to CCTV, the state broadcaster. State radio said 600 rescue personnel had been airlifted to Baoxing.
China’s new leadership, faced with its first such disaster after taking state office last month, organised a quick and forceful response.
Xi Jinping, the president and Communist party chief who also heads the military, was quoted by state media as ordering the armed forces to move in fast but also take care of their own lives.
Li Keqiang, premier, who arrived in the disaster zone on Saturday afternoon, was shown on state television presiding over a crisis meeting in a tent in Lushan.
The quake triggered offers of assistance from the private sector. Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that makes the iPad for Apple and has a plant in Chengdu, pledged Rmb50m ($8m) in assistance to the provincial government.
On Saturday night in Huojing, a town on the road from Chengdu to Lushan, about 100 green tents were pitched on a basketball court for people who had been forced to leave their houses.
Waiting in line for a tent, Zhou Huifen, 50, a corn farmer, told the Financial Times that while her house had been ruined, none of her family had been injured.
“It felt about the same as the 2008 earthquake, maybe a little stronger. We were on the edge of the earthquake, not the centre, so we were OK.”
Gao Haiyan, 37, a restaurant owner who was also planning to spend the night in one of the tents, said her restaurant had lost its roof and the walls had buckled.
“I can’t continue my restaurant now because the building is destroyed,” she said.
来自国际红十字会与红新月会国际联合会(International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)的Kevin Xia表示，尽管芦山县中心地区正在恢复正常，但由于道路堵塞，将供应物资运进该县仍有困难。