Rescuers battle cold, aftershocks to help NW China earthquake victims

JISHISHAN, Gansu Province, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- Central and local authorities have mounted an all-out search and rescue operation after a powerful earthquake jolted a county in northwest China's Gansu Province late Monday.

Battling a cold wave that sent temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius and repeated aftershocks, thousands of rescuers are racing against time to search and rescue survivors in the quake-hit regions in Gansu and neighboring Qinghai Province.

As of Tuesday evening, the 6.2-magnitude earthquake has killed 127 people -- 113 people in Gansu and 14 in Qinghai -- and injured hundreds. It also damaged houses and infrastructure like water, electricity, transportation and communications.

Rescuers are in operation in Dahejia Township of Bonan-Dongxiang-Salar Autonomous County of Jishishan in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China's Gansu Province, Dec. 19, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhang Ling)

According to the China Earthquake Networks Center, the quake hit at 11:59 p.m. Monday and has a focal depth of 10 km. The epicenter, Liugou Township, is about 8 km from the county seat of Bonan-Dongxiang-Salar Autonomous County of Jishishan in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu.

After the quake, President Xi Jinping urged all-out search and rescue efforts and proper arrangements for affected people to ensure the safety of people's lives and property.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, asked local authorities to rescue and treat the injured people promptly to minimize casualties and closely monitor the earthquake situation and weather changes to prevent secondary disasters.

A medical shelter has been set up in the township health center for treating the injured, while the seriously injured were sent to prefectural and county-level hospitals, where green channels have been launched for emergency rescue, Han Shujun, a spokesperson for the Gansu provincial emergency management department, told a press conference Tuesday morning.

Rescuers install heating equipment at a temporary relocation site in Dahe Village of Bonan-Dongxiang-Salar Autonomous County of Jishishan, Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China's Gansu Province, Dec. 19, 2023. (Xinhua/Fang Xin)

Relief supplies, including coats, quilts, folding beds, instant noodles, tents and stoves, were sent to the disaster-affected area to ensure the basic necessities for the victims.

The National Health Commission dispatched a team of medical experts to the affected region following the earthquake. The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Emergency Management have allocated 200 million yuan (about 28.18 million U.S. dollars) of funds to the quake-hit provinces.

Xinhua reporters arrived at the severely affected Chenjia village in Dahejia township in Gansu at around 3 a.m. Tuesday, finding the village plunged into darkness as a blackout gripped the area, and electricity cables dangled on the ground. Several houses had crumbled, leaving streets strewn with shards of glass, bricks and rocks.

Ma Shijun, a student at Dahejia Middle School, recounted running out of the dormitory barefoot, without even grabbing a coat, which left his hands slightly numb. Following the earthquake, teachers promptly organized students to seek refuge on the playground.

"Seeing more and more rescue personnel arriving, I find myself less frightened than when the earthquake first struck," Ma said.

Medical rescue team members of the People's Armed Police Force Qinghai Corps conduct medical examination at Caotan Village of Minhe County in Haidong City, northwest China's Qinghai Province, Dec. 19, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhang Long)

At the People's Hospital of Jishishan County, medical staff were racing against time to transport the injured on stretchers into the clinics. The observation room, designed to accommodate only six beds, was filled with stretchers constantly coming in and out.

As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, the hospital had admitted more than 400 injured individuals, with two in critical condition and 22 in serious condition, according to the hospital's vice president Dong Wenbin.

"All we can do now is to go all out and save more lives," said doctor Hou Huaipeng.