An earthquake that struck China’s Yunnan province yesterday has killed at least 381 people, injured more than 1,800, and created the latest public relations crisis for Chinese officials, who have been repeatedly criticized for bungling rescue operations in the aftermath of major natural disasters.
The 6.5 magnitude tremor, according to a preliminary analysis by China’s earthquake monitoring service, hit Ludian, a county east of Kunming and home to about 430,000 people, including a mix of ethnic minority groups. State media said that 12,000 homes and at least one school had collapsed. Landslides and aftershocks have destroyed dozens of roads collapsed and electricity and telecommunication remain cut off. Residents described the aftermath of the quake as a “battlefield after bombardment.”
Chinese state media quickly announced that the government was sending emergency supplies and 2,500 troops to the disaster zone, which is expected to suffer heavy rain over the next few days. Chinese premier Li Keqiang arrived today in Ludian. Still, some have pointed out that it took over five hours for rescue workers to begin helping survivors the disaster zone, because of heavy rain and blocked roads. Supplies of blood donations and drinkable water are low, according to local media.
In 2008, Chinese authorities came under fire for responding slowly to an earthquake in Sichuan province that left over 70,000 people dead. In July, officials in Hainan were fired after Chinese internet users released photos of moldy bread being given to survivors of Typhoon Rasmussen, which killed at least 62 people.
Ludian, one of the country’s poorest regions, is especially prone to earthquakes. In 2012, a 5.6 magnitude quake struck in the same area, leaving 81 people dead. In 1974, a quake in the same spot killed more than 1,400 people in the province. China’s state broadcaster CCTV said the quake was the strongest to strike the province in 14 years and the country’s third deadliest in past six years.