A massive earthquake hit Sichuan in southwestern China today morning, killing at least 157 people and injuring more than 5500 in a large mostly rural expanse.
The 7.0 magnitude quake caused widespread damage, flattening buildings, disrupting communication and water lines and triggered panic among residents who ran out of their houses as several aftershocks continued to jolt affected areas.
By late afternoon, rescue operations were on in full swing with at least 5000 personnel from army and government departments dispatched to take care of the survivors.
The toll was expected to rise as many people were feared trapped under the debris of fallen buildings; nearly 50 survivors were pulled out till evening.
More than 70, 000 people had died in the province in an earthquake in 2008.
The worst hit area of Saturday’s quake was the Lushan county of Sichuan province where buildings crumbled into stacks of debris as tremors continued for nearly 20 seconds.
Thousands were left without homes and rescue workers had put up makeshift shelters to house survivors. Several medical teams were working around the clock to treat the injured.
State media reported that the earthquake hit Lushan county of Ya'an City in the province at 8:02am Saturday
Initial reports said at least 1000 people were injured but by early evening, the toll had risen sharply to over 3000.
Landslides triggered by the quake blocked traffic and hampered rescue work as fire fighting s and emergency units attempted to reach the affected areas.
Residents help carry injured people to the hospital after an earthquake hit Ya'an City in Lushan County, southwest China's Sichuan province. (AFP PHOTO)
At least five drones were dispatched to capture images of quake-hit areas, the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geo-information said.
State media reported that the drone images will cover the hardest-hit Baoxing, Taiping and Longmen townships.
The administration has already obtained satellite images of pre-disaster Lushan county, of Ya'an City in Sichuan Province, through the Ziyuan III satellite.
Helicopters from army installations were also pressed into service to aid rescue work.
Tragedy also struck during rescue efforts after a an army truck carrying 17 soldiers on way to the quake scene fell into a river while negotiating a damaged road; at least one soldier lost his life.
Rescue efforts were also hampered by aftershocks.
Residents rest outside damaged houses in Longmen township, an area very close to the epicenter of a shallow earthquake at magnitude 7.0 that hit the city of Ya'an, southwest China's Sichuan province. (CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO)
According to state-run Xinhua news agency, a 5.3-magnitude aftershock jolted the border areas between the counties of Lushan and Tianquan at about 11:34am, the strongest aftershock after the initial quake, according to the provincial seismological bureau.
“About 400 armed police have arrived in Lushan county to assist with rescue efforts. More than 1,400 rescuers from the provincial fire-fighting department are rushing to the site.
The hardest-hit areas are in the townships of Longmen and Qingren, said Jin Zelin, an official with the provincial armed police corps,” the Xinhua report said.
About 200 technicians from China Mobile Limited's Sichuan branch have been dispatched to disaster-hit areas to repair the telecommunications network.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reached Qionglai Airport in southwest China's Sichuan Province in the afternoon. He convened emergency meetings during his flight to direct quake-relief work.
A villager checks the condition of a damaged house in Banjarnegara, Central Java, on April 20, 2013, after an earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale caused by volcanic activity in the Dieng plateau. (AFP PHOTO)
"The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours after the quake's occurrence, the golden time for saving lives, to take scientific rescue measures and save peoples' lives," Li said.