Some 300 people are feared dead after a rapid series of strong earthquakes hit a mountainous and impoverished area of China’s Qinghai province early Wednesday, state-run media said.
The Xinhua News Agency reported 8,000 others were injured and many victims, including primary schoolchildren, were buried under debris.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake, as measured by the U.S. Geological Survey, struck at 7:49 a.m. local time (7:49 p.m. ET Tuesday), when people were probably still at home and schools were beginning the day. The USGS also recorded several strong aftershocks — one of magnitude 5.8 — all within hours of the initial quake.
Xinhua reported panic on the streets as crews launched rescue efforts in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
“We have to mainly rely on our hands to clear away the debris as we have no large excavating machines,” police officer Shi Huajie told the Xinhua News Agency. “We have no medical equipment, either.”
A Chinese military official told Xinhua that the death toll was expected to rise, given the damage to homes.
He said dispatched soldiers were setting up tents and transporting oxygen for the injured but affected roads leading to the airport could hamper relief efforts.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs plans to distribute 5,000 tents, 50,000 coats and 50,000 quilts to the earthquake zone, Xinhua said.
The epicenter was located in remote and rugged terrain, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Qamdo, Tibet. Qinghai borders the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xingjiang and the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan.
Given the landscape, rescue efforts are sure to be “challenging,” said Francis Markus, of the International Federation of the Red Cross. He spoke with CNN from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, which experienced its own tragedy in May, 2008, when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake killed roughly 70,000 people.
“But China does have a lot of experience and a lot of resources,” he said. “The capability is there. It’s just a question of getting it to this remote spot.”
More than 85 percent of the houses in the county seat of Jiegu, had collapsed, a prefecture official told Xinhua.
“Many are buried in the collapsed houses, and there are still lots of others who are injured and being treated at local hospitals,” he said.
Xinhua said residents near the epicenter also reported casualties and collapsed buildings.
Karsum Nyima, deputy director of news at local Yushu TV, told Xinhua that most of the houses in the area were made of wood with earthen walls. He said some had come tumbling down, including a Buddhist pagoda in a park.
In 2008, 70,000 people died when a 7.9 earthquake rocked neighboring Sichuan province, northwest of its capital, Chengdu.