At least 19 people were killed and nearly 250 others injured after a powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck a mountainous region in China's southwest Sichuan province, with rescuers today evacuating over 45,000 tourists from the area, according to the official media.
The temblor that struck the popular tourist destination in Jiuzhaigou County last night was followed by another 6.6- magnitude quake today in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang province, more than 2,000-km away.
The massive earthquake in Sichuan struck at 9:19 PM (local time) last night and the epicentre was monitored at a depth of 20 km, state-run Xinhua new agency reported.
Jiuzhaigou, or Jiuzhai Valley, is a national park famed for more than 140 lakes whose waters range from crystal-clear to turquoise, lying at the feet of forest-clad mountains.
The death toll in the quake in Sichuan has risen to 19, with 247 injured, including 40 seriously, authorities said.
The injured included a French man and a Canadian woman. The exact number of casualties of foreign nationals in the disaster was not immediately known.
Five among the dead were visitors to the Jiuzhaigou national park, China Earthquake Networks Centre (CENC) said.
Rescue workers are assisting stranded tourists at the popular tourist destination and more than 45,000 tourists have so far been evacuated, Xinhua reported.
Over 800 workers are combing villages in search of anyone still trapped, the provincial quake relief headquarters said.
Wang Zhibin, a police officer in Jiuzhaigou, said fallen rocks and landslides blocking roads had largely been cleared.
Rescue workers are trying to reach eight people trapped by debris after a building collapsed in Zhangzha township.
Tourist coaches and private vehicles have been pressed into service to help transport the stranded tourists. Power, communication and water supply in the area have been restored.
The county also sent consultants to hotels, rural inns and streets to offer possible counselling service to tourists.
The quake was felt in the provincial capital Chengdu, about 300 kms south of the epicentre, and other regions in the neighbouring provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi, the report said.
President Xi Jinping has called for all-out efforts to rapidly organise relief work and rescue the injured people.
Authorities should check the impact of the earthquake, evacuate and settle visitors and local people, and reduce death and injuries as much as possible, Xi said.
As the earthquake took place during the flood period and tourism season, authorities should enhance meteorological early warning and geological monitoring to guard against other disasters and try their best to protect people's lives and property, he added.
Premier Li Keqiang urged local authorities to go all out in relief and monitoring work.
China's cabinet, the State Council, has sent a national work team to the disaster-hit area to guide relief work. Local governments have also activated top-level emergency response procedures.
The Western Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which oversees Sichuan province, upgraded aviation traffic control in the quake zone last night to make way for rescue mission flights, the PLA Daily reported.
The province's paramilitary police has also sent out forces with life detecting equipment to search for survivors who may be buried under rubble, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
All three of the country's major telecommunications firms have sent technicians to the quake zone to fix damaged networks.
Shen Ji, director of the provincial health and family planning commission, said more than 30 ambulances and over 500 health personnel had gone to the affected areas.
The disease control and prevention center has sent a team to assess health risks and prevent epidemics.
A 200-member health aid team from neighbouring Gansu province is standing by.
Staff and pandas at the nearby China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda were unaffected.
At around 6 AM, 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 carrying seismologists, medicine and relief goods to Jiuzhai Valley.
This morning, Xinhua reporters saw tourists sitting in front of their hotels, wrapped in quilts. A tourist, surnamed Liu, said that they had stayed up all night. The Tibetan hotel owner gave all quilts and blankets in the hotel to the tourists and lit a bonfire to keep them warm, Liu said.
The disaster reduction center of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, based on a preliminary assessment, predicted that 24,000 houses have collapsed or been severely damaged.
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 even as more than 1,000 aftershocks rippled across the region.
Sichuan is a quake-prone region. In May 2008, an 8.0- magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan and killed more than 80,000 people. In 2013, a 7.0-magnitude quake hit Lushan, in which 196 people were killed.
The second quake struck the Xinjiang province. Three villagers were rushed to hospital after their home collapsed in the earthquake that jolted Jinghe county in Bortala Mongolian autonomous prefecture in Xinjiang province.
People in neighbouring cities of Urumqi, Changji, Yining and Karamay felt strong tremors that lasted 10 to 20 seconds.
The quake struck at a depth of 11 kms, the CENC said in a statement. The epicentre was 37-km from Jinghe County seat, 93-km from the prefectural capital of Bole city, and 383-km from Urumqi.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)