Tibetan Earthquake Updates and Aid

By Kalsang Rinchen from Phayul.com

Dharamsala, April 14 – Latest reports indicate that the death toll in the massive earthquake that hit Qinghai province earlier today has risen to 400 and around 10000 people have been injured.

However, unconfirmed sources including Tibetan exiles belonging to the quake hit area who claimed to have spoken to people there say the death toll is much higher. One Tibetan who said he spoke to someone in his village puts the death toll around 3000.

The quake measured 7.1 on Richter scale, according to China Earthquake Networks Center but the United States Geological Survey puts the magnitude at 6.9.

The epicenter of the quake lies in Yushu County (Kyegudo in the traditional Tibetan province of Kham) in the Yushu prefecture. The quake struck at 7:49 a.m. with a depth of about 33 km and is calculated to be 33.1 north and 96.7 east, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center.

“The strong quake and a string of aftershocks, with the biggest one being 6.3 magnitude, have toppled houses, temples, gas stations and electric poles, triggered landslides, damaged roads, cut power supplies and disrupted telecommunications. A reservoir was also cracked, where workers are trying to prevent the outflow of water,” reported Xinhua.

The death toll “may rise further as lots of houses collapsed,” according to Wu Yong, commander of the Yushu Military Area Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. “We are now putting up tents and transporting oxygen to prepare for treating the injured,” he said. “But roads leading to the airport have been damaged, hampering the rescue efforts,” he said. “In addition, frequent aftershocks and strong winds make the rescue operation more difficult,” he added.

At least 18 aftershocks have been reported so far, with the biggest being 6.3 magnitude about an hour and 36 minutes later.

“Aftershocks above 6 magnitude are still likely to happen in the coming several days,” warned Liu Jie, of the China Earthquake Networks Center.

In Dharamsala, five NGOs will hold a prayer vigil later today for the victims of the catastrophe and their families. The Tibetan Youth Congress, Gu Chu Sum movement of Tibet, Tibetan Women’s Association, National Democratic Party of Tibet and the Students for a Free Tibet will light a butter lamps (Gyamchoe)at the Tsuglakhang courtyard and offer prayers on the Tibetan exiles’ behalf for those killed in the quake, and for those who have been injured.

The exile Tibetan government here also closed offices under its administration to hold prayer session for the victims and their families.

From Free Tibet

The epicentre of the quake is about 50km west of Jiegu Township, according to the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua. Jiegu is the main town in Yushu, a Tibetan-populated area in the eastern Tibetan area of Kham (Chinese province: Qinghai). The Chinese government considers Yushu as a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

The US Geological Survey, reported that the initial quake was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks: ten minutes after the first quake a second quake of 5.3 magnitude struck. That quake was followed two minutes later by a quake of 5.2 magnitude. Another quake measuring 5.8 was recorded at 9.25am local time. Sky news has reported that 18 aftershocks in total followed the initial quake.

Free Tibet’s Director Stephanie Brigden who worked in Yushu and knows the area well said:  

“ The buildings along the main road are concrete blocks which have probably toppled like dominos, in the surrounding back streets there are more traditional wooden Tibetan homes which we hope have been able to withstand the earthquake. We already know hundreds are dead, many more injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by this earthquake and their families and friends living in exile who will be frantically waiting for news.  Military presence in Tibetan towns, even in remote areas like Yushu has been increasing since the Spring protests in 2008. Their presence has been intimidating and has allowed the state to respond quickly to quash protests. We are encouraged  that in response to the tragedy the military have been mobilised to assist in search and rescue.”

Xinhua has reported one local official in Jiegu as saying that more than 85% of the houses had collapsed following the series of quakes and that large cracks had appeared on the buildings that remained standing. A local government website reports that the county’s population was measured at 89,300 in 2005, mostly Tibetan herders and farmers. Yushu is close to the source of three rivers on the Tibetan Plateau. The BBC has reported that many local people have fled in to the mountains amid concerns that a nearby dam at the headwaters of the three rivers could burst. The BBC cited official state media as reporting that local officials were attempting to drain a reservoir after a crack appeared in the dam wall. China is building a string of dams across the headwaters of major Asian rivers which have their sources on the Tibetan Plateau to address future water shortages. The presence of a growing number of dams in an area prone to earthquakes received significant media attention following a huge earthquake that struck Sichuan province in 2008. The BBC reported that soldiers had been sent to the area to help with the rescue effort in the first instance and that 5,000 specialist quake rescuers have been despatched to Yushu. There is a significant military presence in the area as China has sent thousands of additional troops into the area following Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in 2008 that have continued sporadically since.

Reports from Reuters CNN and the NYTimes

From People’s Daily (China)

Tibetan Earthquake Map

From Tibet Truth

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