Preparations pay off for communities struck by earthquakes
By Lu Yan  ·  2024-02-02  ·   Source: NO.6 FEBRUARY 8, 2024
Earthquake-affected villagers at a temporary shelter in Wushi County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on January 24 (ZHANG WEI)

At 2:09 a.m. on January 23, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake woke a large number of people in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region from their sleep. Amanguli Tuohuti was one of them. She took her children and quickly left her house in a remote village in Wushi, a county where the epicenter was located.

After sending her children to safety at her parents' house, Tuohuti, a doctor, joined other volunteers to help the approximately 100 fellow villagers who were relocated to a temporary shelter. In less than a day, a meeting room of the village's community center was transformed into a living area with beds, a heating system and food.

"We were afraid when the earthquake hit," Tuohuti, who helped check the residents' physical and psychological condition, told Beijing Review. "But we soon calmed down and felt relieved as the relief supplies came quickly and all the people have been taken good care of in a warm shelter."

As of 8:00 a.m. on January 26, more than 4,200 aftershocks had been recorded. Twenty-eight of them were in the range of magnitude 4.0 to 5.9. The disaster caused three deaths and five injuries in Wushi in Aksu Prefecture and the adjacent Akqi County in Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture.

A doctor measures the blood pressure of a villager at a temporary shelter for earthquake-affected people in Wushi on January 24 (LU YAN)

In safe shelter 

Having worked as a doctor in the village for six years, Tuohuti is very familiar with the health conditions of the villagers. However, the sudden arrival of the disaster has added a lot of pressure to her work.

"Living in such close proximity to the epicenter, the possible health issues of the villagers should not be ignored," she said, emphasizing that older individuals with underlying health conditions were her primary focus.

As soon as she arrived at the temporary shelter, Tuohuti picked up her blood pressure monitor and put on her stethoscope. She conducted routine check-ups on older villagers and those with known health problems, and asked about everyone's overall health condition.

Medical teams deployed by the government to the shelter not only

provided medical treatment to the injured, but also carried out tasks such as indoor disinfection and water quality monitoring, ensuring the overall wellbeing of the residents.

Rescuers search a collapsed cowshed in Wushi after an earthquake jolted the area in the early hours of January 23 (XINHUA)

Living necessities were also in place very soon. Within 12 hours, tents, cotton-padded coats, quilts and mattresses, foldable beds and stoves were sent to Wushi by central and regional governments. Local people have also received a continuous supply of items donated by all sectors of society, including companies and philanthropic organizations.

During and after the earthquake, the outdoor temperature was approximately minus 17 degrees Celsius and the maximum temperature in the daytime was around 0 degrees Celsius.

"It's warm and nice here," Saifeiye Tuerhong, a first grader at primary school, who was living in the temporary shelter with her family, told Beijing Review.

Food supplies were stacked at the shelter. In addition to instant noodles, snacks, bottled water, fruit juice, and nang, local naan bread that is a staple in the region, were available. At some shelters, volunteers and villagers set up large pots to cook other local staples such as mutton noodles and mutton pilaf.

At the same time, housing safety inspectors were busy evaluating every house in the affected areas, marking damaged ones for repair. Once the repairs are completed, the villagers in the shelter can return home.

"We are told it's likely we will move back to our house in early February," said Guliziba Tuerhong, Saifeiye Tuerhong's older sister.

A boy talks to a rescue worker at a temporary shelter for earthquake-affected people in Wushi on January 24 (ZHANG WEI)

Behind the quake 

The epicenter, at a depth of 22 km, was situated in Wushi, in the mountainous border area between China and Kyrgyzstan, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center.

According to Han Yanyan, a senior engineer at the center, this region is one of the areas in China with relatively strong tectonic activity. On average, a magnitude 7 or above earthquake occurs once every seven years.

The energy from the January 23 earthquake was primarily released in a sparsely populated area. According to the Xinjiang Earthquake Agency, the epicenter is approximately 50 km from the county seat of Wushi, with five villages located within a 20-km radius around the epicenter. 

"If it had occurred near densely populated areas, the casualties and other losses would have been even greater," said Gao Mengtan, an expert with China Earthquake Administration's Institute of Geophysics.

Gao believes the quake-resistant local buildings helped protect villagers to a great degree.

Food and beverage supplies at a temporary shelter for earthquake-affected people in Wushi on January 24 (ZHANG WEI)

Xinjiang is a region prone to natural disasters. Since 2011, the region has withstood nearly 50 destructive earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher, as well as more than 20 extreme weather events such as snowstorms and floods, according to the local government.

As part of precautions to mitigate losses, more than 2.6 million dilapidated rural houses were rebuilt or renovated in Xinjiang under government-led projects between 2011 and 2020, benefiting nearly 11 million residents.

Then, a project was launched in 2021 to increase the quake-proof performance of houses of rural populations in Xinjiang, especially those of low-income residents. As of now, the renovation of 34,800 housing units has been completed, providing nearly 140,000 residents with earthquake-resistant and safe homes, according to the regional emergency management department.

Following the earthquake, the Wushi fire and rescue brigade and the Aksu fire and rescue detachment promptly dispatched rescuers to the epicenter area. According to official statistics, more than 12,000 people were relocated to safety within 18 hours of the earthquake occurring.

While a small number of residential houses and many livestock sheds suffered serious damage in this recent earthquake, the damage to most villagers' homes was too minor to be visible. People whose houses fail to pass government-led safety evaluations should be relocated to safe places until reinforcement or rebuilding is complete, local authorities said.

"Now I'm expecting to see my family back at my house soon," Tuohuti said.

(Reporting from Wushi County, Aksu Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region)

(Print Edition Title: Resilience and Response)  

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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