7.1 earthquake strikes western China, but no casualties reported yet from sparsely populated area

BEIJING — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck a sparsely populated part of China’s western Xinjiang region early Tuesday, downing power lines, destroying at least two homes and prompting authorities to suspend trains, local authorities and state media reported. No fatalities or injuries were immediately reported.

Xinhua News Agency cited the China Earthquake Networks Center as saying the quake rocked Uchturpan county (Wushi county in Mandarin) in Aksu prefecture shortly after 2 a.m.

Two houses collapsed, Aksu authorities said, and around 200 rescuers were dispatched to the epicenter, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The Xinjiang railway authority suspended dozens of trains and sealed off the affected sections, CCTV reported. The quake downed power lines but electricity was quickly restored to the region, Aksu authorities reported.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 7.0 magnitude and occurred in the Tian Shan mountain range, “a seismically active region, though earthquakes of this size occur somewhat infrequently.” It said the largest quake in the area in the past century was a 7.1-magnitude one in 1978 about 200 kilometers (124 miles) to the north of one early Tuesday.

State broadcaster CCTV said there were 14 aftershocks since the main quake, with two registering above 5 magnitude.

The earthquake struck in a rural area populated mostly by Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnicity that is predominantly Muslim and has been the target of a state campaign of forced assimilation and mass detention in recent years.

Uchturpan county at the quake’s epicenter is recording temperatures well below freezing, with lows down to negative 18 degrees C (just below zero F) forecast by the China Meteorological Administration this week. Parts of northern and central China have shivered under frigid cold snaps this winter, with authorities closing schools and highways several times due to snowstorms.

The tremors were felt hundreds of kilometers (miles) away. Ma Shengyi, a 30-year-old pet shop owner living in Tacheng, 600 kilometers (373 miles) from the epicenter, said her dogs started barking before she felt her apartment building shudder. The quake was so strong her neighbors ran downstairs. Ma rushed to her bathroom and started to cry.

“There’s no point in running away if it’s a big earthquake,” Ma said. “I was scared to death.”

Chandeliers swung, buildings were evacuated and a media office building near the epicenter shook for a full minute, Xinhua reported. A video posted by a Chinese internet user on Weibo showed residents standing outside on the streets bundled in winter jackets, and a photo posted by CCTV showed a cracked wall with chunks fallen off.

Tremors were felt across the Xinjiang region and in the neighboring countries Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In the Kazakh capital of Almaty, people left their homes, the Russian news agency Tass reported.

Videos posted on the Telegram messaging platform showed people in Almaty running down the stairs of apartment blocks and standing outside in the street after they felt strong tremors. Some people appeared to have left their homes quickly and were pictured standing outside in freezing temperatures in shorts.

Earthquakes are common in western China, including in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, as well as the Xinjiang region and Tibet.

An earthquake that struck Gansu in December killed 151 people and was China’s deadliest earthquake in nine years.


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