Asia China, shaken by the deadliest earthquake in almost a decade: sub-zero temperatures make rescue difficult

Hundreds of makeshift camps have sprung up in the fields of Gansu, northwest China, after the deadliest earthquake to hit the Asian country in almost a decade killed more than 120 people and collapsed thousands of homes

Asia China, shaken by the deadliest earthquake in almost a decade: sub-zero temperatures make rescue difficult

Hundreds of makeshift camps have sprung up in the fields of Gansu, northwest China, after the deadliest earthquake to hit the Asian country in almost a decade killed more than 120 people and collapsed thousands of homes.

On Tuesday night (China time), the images arriving from those camps were devastating: entire families who have been left without homes, or who were evacuated after the earthquake, around large bonfires trying to warm themselves under freezing temperatures of - 13°C.

The extreme cold wave that is hitting China these days is making the work of the thousands of rescuers who have spread across a vast mountainous region, nestled in the Tibetan plateau and bordering Mongolia, where more than 27 million people live, very difficult.

Searching for the missing are 4,000 firefighters and forestry brigade agents, to which must be added army officers and soldiers, and thousands of volunteers from a Chinese NGO that provides support in disasters.

The head of one of the rescue teams sent told local television that the large scale of the damage is due to the poor quality of the construction material used in the villages of Gansu: old houses made of clay. This province is one of the poorest in the country and is famous for its ethnic wealth: different groups coexist, although the majority are Hui Muslims.

The epicenter of this magnitude 6.2 earthquake is in Jishishan county, home to more than 200,000 people and where more than 5,000 buildings were destroyed. Across the region, 155,000 homes were damaged.

Authorities have also reported more than 700 injuries and there have been fatalities in the neighboring province, Qinghai. Emergency workers continue to search for the missing among collapsed buildings and landslides.

The earthquake hit on Monday, just before midnight, but on Tuesday throughout the day there were up to nine aftershocks that were felt in other provinces that are more than 600 kilometers away. In another neighboring region, Xinjiang, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake was also recorded, but there were no reports of casualties.

For the "relief efforts" in Gansu, the Chinese government allocated a fund of 200 million yuan (around 26 million euros) and throughout the day sent supplies such as water canisters, blankets, stoves and instant noodles.

Neighbors who were interviewed by local media explained that the vast majority of them were caught sleeping by the earthquake. They fear that the number of victims is higher because there were many people who did not have time to seek shelter.

"I was in the epicenter of the earthquake with my mother and we couldn't escape. The house was shaking so much that I couldn't even get up and things were falling everywhere. It was very cold outside, more than 10 degrees below zero," he wrote on Weibo. , the Chinese version of X, a user who went through the earthquake with his family.

"I live on the 16th floor and I felt the tremors very strongly, as if suddenly there were waves shaking my entire building. I woke up my family and we ran down the 16 floors," said another witness.

In the Asian giant, seismic activity is common because it is located on top of several tectonic plates in a state of constant compression. The Gansu earthquake has been the deadliest earthquake since 2014, when 617 people died in the southern province of Yunnan.

Experts have pointed out that the cause of the greatest destruction and number of victims of this last earthquake is due to the fact that, although it was not of great magnitude, it originated at a shallow depth (10 kilometers) and the shaking, with a vertical movement, They were very violent. To this we must add the poor quality of the buildings and that caught most of the neighbors at home.

Last August, a shallow 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck eastern China, injuring 23 and collapsing dozens of buildings. In September 2022, at least 74 people died in a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck Sichuan province, which was also the site of the country's deadliest earthquake in living memory, the magnitude 7.9 that killed almost 90,000 people and devastated entire cities.