CHENGDU, China — China on Wednesday evacuated tens of thousands people in its mountainous southwest after a strong earthquake killed at least 19 people and rattled a region where memories of a 2008 seismic disaster remain fresh.
The 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan province late on Tuesday, tearing cracks in mountain highways, triggering rockslides, damaging buildings and sending panicked residents and tourists fleeing into the open.
Thousands of people, including many visitors to a popular national park near the epicentre, remained outside overnight, according to reports. They were being evacuated to safety Wednesday as nerves were kept on edge by more than 1,000 aftershocks that rippled across the region.
No reports of widespread damage or large-scale casualties had emerged by Wednesday afternoon. The impact was expected to become clearer soon as hundreds of rescue workers, soldiers and other aid personnel flooded into the region.
The quake killed at least 19 people and injured 247, 40 of them seriously, according to the local government of Aba prefecture where the epicentre was located.
Images showed cars and buses tossed into ravines or crushed by giant boulders jolted loose from surrounding hills, while uniformed paramilitary police with shovels were pictured digging through rubble for victims.
Elsewhere, injured victims were photographed being treated in hospitals while stunned crowds, fearing more tremors, waited out in the open to be evacuated, particularly near the epicentre at Jiuzhaigou.
The official Xinhua news agency said at least five deaths occurred in Jiuzhaigou, a picturesque national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its karst rock formations, waterfalls and lakes.
It said more than 30,000 people had been evacuated from Jiuzhaigou alone.
“Nearly all the tourists are being evacuated,” a local tour company worker, who gave only her surname Yan, told AFP by phone.
“We slept overnight in tour buses and have been staying in the open ground. Landslides are pretty bad, rocks keep falling down.”
China’s official earthquake monitoring agency said more than 1,000 aftershocks had been detected, the most powerful reaching magnitude 4.8 on Wednesday.