A magnitude 7.1 earthquake left over 400 dead and thousands injured in the sleepy pastures, mud and brick villages and county buildings of China’s Qinghai province on the Tibetan plateau.
The earthquake struck at 7.49 am on Wednesday, with its epicentre about 800 km away from the provincial capital of Xining and 200 km away from the Qinghai-Tibet Railway line. Initial reports said the high-altitude mountainous line was unaffected.
But the earthquake, China's worst since the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008 killed 87,000, again sparked concerns of student deaths in poorly constructed schools.
Media reports said that most students in Qinghai had escaped safely, but the number of those buried under rubble was unknown. “Our top priority is to save students,” Kang Zifu, an army officer in the rescue operation in Gyegu town, was quoted telling Xinhua.
Zhu Liang, a driver of the Yushu county government, said he saw half the buildings of the Yushu vocational school had collapsed. “I do not know how many students died,” Zhu told Xinhua. “Students were yet to go to class when the quake happened. I recovered several bodies from the debris and found they were fully dressed.” A teacher at a primary boarding school was quoted saying that five of her students had died.
The epicentre was near a town called Gyegu on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, where over 85 per cent homes were reported flattened. The death toll was high compared to the region’s sparse population of mostly ethnic Tibetans.
The epicentre hit 33 km below the surface and led to at least several aftershocks, including a 6.3 magnitude jolt.