19 dead, 247 injured as 7.0-magnitude quake hits Sichuan Province

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A 7.0-magnitude earthquake jolted Jiuzhaigou County in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 9:19pm on Tuesday, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center.
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This story is being updated as more information comes to hand.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Hotel guests are evacuated from the Tangke Palace Hotel located in the Ngawa (Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Sichuan Province after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake jolts Jiuzhaigou County at 9:19pm on Tuesday.

Nineteen people have been killed and 247 injured after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake jolted Jiuzhaigou County in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 9:19pm on Tuesday .

Six of the victims were tourists, two local residents and the other unidentified, according to the Jiuzhaigou emergency authorities.

Among the injured, at least 40 were in critical condition.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said all out efforts must be made by rescue personnel to minimize the number of casualties. Premier Li Keqiang also ordered that a joint work group shall be sent by national disaster reduction authorities to the quake area to conduct rescue work.

According to the Sichuan Province government, the death toll could likely rise to 100 and leave about 1,000 people injured, based on the demographic census of 2010.

More than 24,000 buildings might collapse or be severely damaged, the government estimated.

There were more than 100 tourists trapped near scenic spot Ganhaizi in Jiuzhaigou.

Sichuan government spokesman Chen Weide said it was unclear at present what had happened to them and whether they had been buried or were just trapped by a blocked road.

The reception area in one hotel has collapsed, trapping some people, but some 500 people have already been safely evacuated from the building.

Emergency response

The China Earthquake Administration has activated level-II emergency response procedures. Work teams have been sent to the stricken area to carry out emergency operations, the China Earthquake Administration said in a statement.

China has a four-level earthquake emergency response system, with level-I being the top.

The Red Cross Society of China has also launched its emergency response procedures, sending 1,000 first aid kits, 2,000 quilts and 200 tents to the area.

The Chinese Red Cross Foundation has sent work teams to verify the casualties and damage, and has allocated 100,000 yuan (US$14,914) for emergency aid.

Traffic restrictions

The epicenter was located at 33.2 degrees north latitude and 103.82 degrees east longitude, at a depth of 20 kilometers, the China Earthquake Networks Center said in a statement.

Restrictions have been imposed to local traffic and only government vehicles are allowed to enter quake-stricken areas, according to Sichuan traffic police. Vehicles heading to Sichuan are being told by police officers to turn back. 

Power supply has been restored in Jiuzhaigou County and Sichuan Jiuzhaihuanglong Airport, China Central Television reported.

Sangey, a worker at the popular Jiuzhaigou tourist site, told Xinhua news agency by telephone that some houses in the scenic spot have collapsed and cracked in wake of the powerful quake, and that authorities are organizing young people to help evacuate residents.

Li Changyong, head of the Jiuzhaigou county health and family planning bureau, said the quake was strongly felt in the county seat, 35 km from the epicenter, and many residents rushed out of buildings.

Li said he saw no buildings in the county seat that had collapsed.

Yu Qian, a local taxation bureau official, said she felt a strong tremor in her home on the fifth floor and she and her two children rushed out of the house.

Rescue

The People's Hospital of Jiuzhaigou County has received 156 of the injured. Of the twenty-four seriously injured admitted last night, one has already been discharged, according to surgeon Yuan Jin.

A French man and a Canadian woman are being treated at the hospital. Maxence Vallon, 18, suffered injuries to both legs. Doctors said stone fragments were embedded in his right leg and he needed immediate surgery to prevent infection. The Canadian woman suffered a slight head injury.

"We were on open ground when a rock fell and hit my brother on the leg," said Romain Vallon, a student in Beijing. The brothers were staying with their mother in a hotel in Jiuzhaigou when the quake struck.

The Canadian woman is expected to leave hospital within two or three days, doctors said. "We have received excellent care. The rescue workers and doctors have been very helpful," she said. The exact number of injuries to foreign nationals in the disaster is unconfirmed.

Shen Ji, director of the provincial health and family planning commission, said more than 30 ambulances and over 500 medical personnel have been sent to the affected area. The provincial disease control and prevention center has sent a team to assess health risks and prevent epidemics. A 200-member medical aid team from neighboring Gansu Province is standing by.

Staff and pandas at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda were unaffected.

Evacuation

Rescue workers are assisting stranded tourists at the popular tourist destination of Jiuzhaigou, a national park known for spectacular waterfalls and karst formations.

More than 45,000 tourists have so far been evacuated. Authorities aim to relocate all tourists today.

Over 800 workers are combing villages in search of anyone still trapped, according to the provincial quake relief headquarters.

Wang Zhibin, a police officer in Jiuzhaigou, said fallen rocks and landslides blocking roads had largely been cleared by 5am

Rescue workers are trying to reach eight people trapped by debris after a building collapsed in Zhangzha township.

The quake relief headquarters said the provincial police department has dispatched over 90 vehicles carrying relief goods to the affected areas.

At around 6am, the first emergency rescue flight, carrying a team of nearly 100, arrived at the Jiuzhai-Huanglong Airport, the transportation hub for relief work. The National Earthquake Response Support Service sent two light helicopters with seismologists, medicine and relief goods to Jiuzhaigou.

Refunds for tourists

Starting Wednesday, tourist attractions in Jiuzhaigou will not receive travelers until further notice, Jiuzhaigou National Park administration said, as the administration is now focused on rescue work. Those who have already booked tickets will be entitled to a refund.

Online travel operator Ctrip said it will provide a full refund for tourists who have purchased air tickets, hotels, car rentals and tour packages for the next three to 20 days, while Shanghai Spring Tours, which has 506 tourists in the Jiuzhaigou area, has also promised a full refund for tourists who ask for cancellation of trips.

Other travel agencies including Tongcheng, Tuniu and Elong have made similar offers.

Relief

On Wednesday morning, tourists were sitting in front of their hotels, wrapped in quilts. A tourist, surnamed Liu, told Xinhua that they had stayed up all night.

The road linking local airport with the worst hit area has been cut off by fallen rocks. As of 1pm, all the flights from the airport were delayed. Scores of passengers were stranded at the airport.

Taxi drivers from the neighboring Songpan County have voluntarily driven to the airport and set up booths offering free food and drinks as well as free taxi rides for stranded passengers and rescuer workers.

Tibetan taxi driver Angchuk, 26, is one of the drivers at the airport. He said that several groups of tourists had been taken to the nearest town, about 18 km away from the airport.

"I did what was needed. We should all do our part after a natural disaster," he said.

So far, only emergency vehicles and ambulances have been allowed to enter the area while passenger buses loaded with tourists are leaving, many via Wenxian County, Gansu Province. The county government has sent over 200 police officers and officials to guide traffic and arrange accommodation.

The disaster reduction center of the Ministry of Civil Affairs said that based on a preliminary assessment 24,000 houses have collapsed or been severely damaged.

China Earthquake Administration has sent a 55-member team to the site.Sichuan and Gansu provinces have also dispatched their own teams.

More than 90 vehicles and 1,200 personnel are involved in the rescue work. Power, communication and water supplies in the county seat have been restored.

The quake was felt in the provincial capital Chengdu about 300 km south of the epicenter, and other regions in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. The population density within 50 kilometers of the epicenter is nine people per square kilometer.

Weather

The quake-hit Jiuzhaigou region is forecast to receive slight to moderate rainfalls in the coming days, the provincial meteorological bureau said Wednesday.

Rain is expected to fall in much of the Sichuan Basin Thursday night, with torrential rain forecast in the northwestern and part of the southern regions of the basin.

Meteorologists warned rain may cause secondary disasters such as flooding and landslides, and disaster-prevention efforts and measures should be strengthened.

Ke Jiayun and Hu Min also contributed to the story.



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