Earthquake Strikes Western Xinjiang, China: Rescue Efforts Underway Amidst Extensive Damage

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescuers search through a quake-affected area in Yamansu Township, Wushi County of Aksu prefecture, China’s Xinjiang, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. An earthquake struck a sparsely populated part of China’s western Xinjiang region early Tuesday, injuring people and damaging or collapsing scores of homes in freezing cold weather, authorities said. (Wang Xudong/Xinhua via AP)

In the early hours of Tuesday, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake rattled the sparsely populated Uchturpan county in China’s western Xinjiang region. While causing significant damage, the earthquake only resulted in six reported injuries, a surprisingly low number given the freezing cold weather conditions. This seismic event is the latest in a series of natural disasters affecting the vast western regions of China.

The China Earthquake Networks Center reported that the quake occurred shortly after 2 a.m., prompting the dispatch of around 1,000 rescue crew members to the affected area. As of mid-day, no fatalities have been reported. The Mandarin-named county, Wushi, witnessed extensive damage to over 120 buildings, including 47 collapsed houses and 78 others damaged. Emergency survival gear, such as coats, tents, and folding beds, is being provided to the thousands who evacuated their homes.

Liu Jinhua, a resident of Aksu, described the chaos as he and his family evacuated their apartment in the middle of the night. Despite power lines being downed, electricity was swiftly restored, and Aksu authorities confirmed the resumption of Urumqi Railroad Bureau services after safety checks.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the earthquake’s magnitude at 7.0, placing it in the seismically active Tian Shan mountain range. A series of aftershocks, the strongest measuring 5.3 magnitude, have been recorded.

Uchturpan county, with a predominantly Uyghur population, is currently facing temperatures well below freezing. The region, heavily militarized and subject to forced assimilation campaigns, is now witnessing paramilitary troops clearing rubble and setting up tents for the displaced.

In addition to the earthquake in Xinjiang, the southwestern province of Yunnan is grappling with the aftermath of a landslide in the village of Liangshui. Rescue efforts are ongoing, with 20 bodies recovered and 24 individuals still missing. The region is experiencing freezing temperatures, complicating search and recovery operations.

The impact of Tuesday’s earthquake reached far beyond Xinjiang, with tremors felt in neighboring countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s capital, people left their homes in response to the quake. Classes in both Xinjiang and Kazakhstan were suspended to allow communities to recover from the shock.

This seismic event serves as a stark reminder of the common occurrence of earthquakes in western China. The nation has experienced devastating quakes in the past, such as the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Gansu in December and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, emphasizing the importance of ongoing efforts to build quake-resistant structures and enhance disaster preparedness.