The Southwestern China has been hit by a massive earthquake which has left more than 203 dead and over 11,500 people injured.
The Chinese army has stepped in to deal with the debris of collapsed houses and public building as death toll continues to rise.
The disaster has struck the country’s south-western Sichuan province at 00:02 AM GMT (8:02 AM local time) on Saturday, at a depth of around 13 kilometers (7,6 miles), according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
China’s seismological bureau initially measured the earthquake’s magnitude at 7.0 on the Richter scale, while the US Geological Service estimated the magnitude at 6.6.
At least 180 people have been killed and 11,227 injured, Xinhua news agency reports, citing the China Earthquake Administration. Most of the deaths occurred in the city of Ya’an. It is quite close to where a huge quake hit in 2008, claiming the lives of almost 70,000 people.
China’s Earthquake Administration has reported that over 1.5 million people have been affected by the earthquake and aftershocks.
Since the rescue operation began 54 people, two children and a pregnant woman among them, are reported to have been dug out alive from under the collapsed buildings. According to unofficial estimates, up to 90 per cent of all buildings in the Ya’an area have been somehow damaged by the earthquake.
Nearly 8,000 troops are already assisting in the rescue operation and 10,000 more remain on standby ready to be dispatched into the disaster zone.
China’s state-owned CCTV channel said that currently only emergency vehicles are allowed access into Yan’an, athough Chengdu airport is once again functional.
It has been reported that a bus transporting 17 soldiers to the earthquake area crashed into a river from a cliff. One of the soldiers died in hospital, while five more were seriously injured.
Thousands of prisoners have been evacuated from the local prisons in Sichuan. No deaths have been reported among the prisoners.
There are also reports of light rain hitting Ya’an, which raises the danger of landslides.
Residents in neighboring provinces have also pointed out quite strong indicators that a quake was happening. People in the provincial capital of Chengdu were leaving their homes in fear – a report from China’s Sina Weibo microblog states. Chengdu is 140 kilometers (85 miles) away from the epicenter of the earthquake.
The area trembled with a multitude of aftershocks, the strongest of which hit a magnitude of 5.1, in Lushan and Boaxing counties at 8:07 AM.
A Chengdu resident said he could feel the earthquake all the way up on the 13th floor of his apartment building, which he claims shook for about 20 seconds, as tiles were seen falling off the neighboring buildings.
Ya’an is a city with a rich history, considered to be one of the origins of China’s tea culture, as well as housing one of China’s main centers for protecting its Giant Panda population.