A strong earthquake struck a rural part of western China on Monday morning, killing at least 20 people and injuring 296, according to the local government.
The quake hit near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province, a region of mountains, desert and pastureland with a population of 26 million. That makes it one of China's more lightly populated provinces, although the New Jersey-sized Dingxi area has a greater concentration of farms and towns with a total population of about 2.7 million.
The deaths and injuries were reported in Min County and other rural southern parts of the municipality, Dingxi Mayor Tang Xiaoming told state broadcaster CCTV. Tang said damage was worst in the counties of Zhang and Min, where scores of homes were damaged and telephone and electricity services knocked out.
Residents described shaking windows and swinging lights but little major damage and little panic. Shaking was felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 177 kilometres north, and as far away as Xi'an, 400 kilometres to the east.
"You could see the chandeliers wobble and the windows vibrating and making noise, but there aren't any cracks in the walls. Shop assistants all poured out onto the streets when the shaking began," said a front desk clerk at the Wuyang Hotel in the Zhang County seat about 40 kilometres from the epicentre. The clerk surnamed Bao refrained from identifying herself further, as is common among ordinary Chinese.
Strong and shallow
The government's earthquake monitoring centre said the initial quake at 7:45 a.m. was magnitude-6.6 and subsequent tremors included a magnitude-5.6.
The quake was shallow, which can be more destructive. The centre said it struck about 20 kilometres beneath the surface, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 6 kilometres deep.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude of the initial quake as 5.9 and the depth at 10 kilometres.
Initial measurements of an earthquake can vary widely, especially if different monitoring equipment is used.
Dingxi is about 1,233 kilometres west of Beijing.
China's worst earthquake in recent years was a 7.9-magnitude temblor that struck the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008, leaving 90,000 people dead or missing.
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