BEIJING -- An earthquake that shook an arid, hilly farming area in northwest China sparked landslides and destroyed or damaged thousands of brick-and-mud homes yesterday, killing at least 89 people and injuring 600, the government said.
The quake near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province toppled brick walls and telephone lines, shattered mud-and-tile-roofed houses and sent cascades of dirt and rock down hillsides that blocked roads and slowed rescue efforts for crews trying to reach remote areas.
Hospitals set up aid stations in parking lots to accommodate large numbers of injured, while hundreds of paramilitary People's Armed Police fanned out to search for victims in the region of terraced farmland where the quake struck, about 760 miles west of Beijing.
"I saw the bulb hanging from the ceiling start swinging wildly around. I woke my two friends and we ran into the bathroom to hide," said arts student Li Jingui, 21, who was on the fourth floor of a school dormitory in Dingxi when the shaking started.
"After the strongest tremors were over, we were worried that there would be aftershocks so we packed our stuff and ran out into a large clearing," Li said.
In addition to the 89 confirmed dead, there were five people missing and 628 injured, the central government said.
Damage was worst in Min county in Dingxi's rural southern portion, where scores of homes were damaged and telephone and electricity services knocked out, Dingxi Mayor Tang Xiaoming told state broadcaster CCTV.
Most of the dead, injured or missing were in Min, a likely result of shoddy construction.
Residents said the shaking lasted about one minute, but wasn't strong enough to cause major damage in urban areas, where buildings are more solidly built.
"You could see the chandeliers wobble and the windows vibrating and making noise, but there aren't any cracks in the walls. Shop assistants all poured out onto the streets when the shaking began," said a front desk clerk at the Wuyang Hotel in the Zhang County seat, about 25 miles from the epicenter.
The government's earthquake monitoring center said the initial quake was magnitude-6.6 and subsequent tremors included a magnitude-5.6. The quake was shallow, which can be more destructive. The center said it struck about 12.4 miles beneath the surface, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 3.7 miles deep.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude of the initial quake as 5.9 and the depth at 6 miles.
China's worst earthquake in recent years was a 7.9-magnitude temblor that struck the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008, leaving 90,000 people dead or missing.