41 injured, 22,000 residents affected
An earthquake measuring 6.6 magnitude jolted Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region at 5:07 am on Saturday, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center.
The epicenter was monitored at 43.4 degrees north latitude and 84.8 degrees east longitude, a mountainous area along the border of Hejing and Xinyuan counties. The focus, the point of rupture in the Earth itself, was a mere 7 km down.
Local authorities said the quake has affected 22,000 residents, and falling objects have injured at least 41 people including one heavily wounded. As of Saturday afternoon no deaths were reported; investigation of injuries and property damage from the quake is still under way.
A large number of residential houses were toppled or damaged in Xinyuan county, and hundreds of cattle were killed when their sheds collapsed, said a statement from the government of the Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, which administers Xinyuan.
Railway authorities suspended 32 passenger and freight trains in Xinjiang for safety reasons. Service resumed at around 10:45 am on Saturday, after thorough safety checks along the routes, said the Urumqi Railway Bureau.
Traffic on Highway 217 was interrupted after cave-ins and landslides were reported after the quake. About 120 people and a number of vehicles were stranded. The CENC declared a level-three emergency following the quake and local authorities sent workers and organized rescue teams into affected areas.
Also, the National Committee for Disaster Reduction and the Ministry of Civil Affairs have urgently allocated and transported 2,500 tents, 12,500 quilts and 12,500 coats to Xinjiang. Gao Guomin, driver at the Hehe Mining Plant, which is located about 20 km northwest of the epicenter at Gongnaisi Forestry Center, described his experiences to China Daily as "the most horrible time in his life".
"In the first round of shakes, I heard big rumblings. A few minutes later, a second round of bigger shakes came. I wasn't expecting it and it lasted for about 30 seconds. The walls swung back and forth. My whole body felt like it was out of control," said the 46-year-old man, who lived at the ground floor of a four-story resident house for workers of the mining plant.
"It's just unbelievable - just the sheer power," Gao added.
At about 5:30 am, Gao and two of his colleagues decided to escape to Hejing county, which is 200 km away from the plant. They took nearly six hours to get to the county, as they repeatedly encountered cave-ins and rolling stones.
There are more than 1,000 people working at the plant. "Every one is OK, except a young man who had his foot injured by a falling teacup in the quake," according to Gao.
Some residents living in Xinyuan county reported that household electricity was cut off after the quake. Zhan Yong, resident of neighboring Gongliu county, said he and his families were shaken out of bed by the quake.
The earthquake was felt strongly by residents living in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang. Cable TV signals were impaired and some furniture shook drastically. Citizens stayed outdoors after feeling the quake, worrying about the aftershocks.
At 5:50 am, at least 100 people and a number of cars were waiting at the gate of the Children's Park at downtown Urumqi, which opened at 6 am.
Some complained about the density of residential houses and the lack of open spaces in their living area.
"If the buildings collapsed, we have no outdoor place where we can escape. That's why we come to the spacious park," said Li Yang, an Urumqi resident.
By Saturday noon, 189 aftershocks had occurred. The strongest one was measured at magnitude 4.2, said the CENC.
Experts said the quake-hit region, located about 3,500 meters above sea level, has been geologically active in history. Two earthquakes measuring more than 7 on the Richter scale have jolted the region since 1900.