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Earthquake rattles western China, killing more than 100 people

A government worker looks at the debris of a house brought down in the earthquake in Jishishan county in northwest China's Gansu province Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.
A government worker looks at the debris of a house brought down in the earthquake in Jishishan county in northwest China's Gansu province Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Updated December 19, 2023 at 1:04 AM ET

BEIJING — A strong earthquake struck a remote part of western China overnight killing at least 118 people and injuring more than 500, the state news agency Xinhua reported Tuesday.

The tremblor hit Jishishan County, in the southwestern part of Gansu province near the border with Qinghai province — a mountainous region populated, in part, by members of the Tibetan, Hui, Dongxiang and Salar ethnic groups.

Xinhua said the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.2. Of the dead, 105 were in Gansu and another 13 in Qinghai.

The quake damaged water, electricity, transport, communications and other infrastructure in the area, it said.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping quickly called for all-out efforts in search-and-rescue efforts and treating the injured. He also urged the hasty deployment of relief materials and infrastructure repairs, because the affected area is at high altitude and the winter weather is cold.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 5.9, and reported several aftershocks.

Rescue teams told Chinese media that frozen roads made driving into the towns and villages in Jishishan county, the area most affected. It's a mountainous area inhabited by numerous ethnic minority groups, including Tibetans and Salars. Rescuers are now working in average temperatures of about 14 degrees Fahrenheit, well below freezing.

An Zhenghai, 62, runs a small shop near the epicenter. He said he was watching TV when the earthquake struck, toppling his one-floor house made of brick and wood.

"I was very nervous," he said by phone. "My whole house was trembling so violently that I could not even walk. ... The earthquake lasted for one minute, and there were several aftershocks."

The local authorities relocated An to a market with about 100 other people. He said he knows people from his neighborhood who were severely wounded, but he doesn't know anyone dead. "Soldiers, firefighters, government, party members, they are now here to do the rescue work," he said.

About 10 hours later, farther west, a separate 5.5 magnitude earthquake in the Xinjiang region struck near China's border with Kygyzstan. That quake happened in a remote area and so far, no casualties or building damage were reported.

NPR's Aowen Cao contributed reporting from Beijing, and Emily Feng from Taipei, Taiwan.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.