Days of downpours and a series of aftershocks have added difficulties to rescue efforts after a 6.6-magnitude earthquake jolted Northwest China's Gansu Province on Monday.
At least 56 people have been killed and 14 others are missing as of 3 pm on Monday following the quake striking at 7:45 am on Monday at the border of Minxian County and Zhangxian County in the city of Dingxi. Another 392 people were injured in the quake, which also cut off communications in 13 townships in Zhangxian, according to the provincial earthquake emergency response center.
Zhu Wenqing, a 40-year-old farmer in Majiagou Village in Meichuan Township, said he had just got up when the house started shaking.
"I escaped immediately on hearing a 'bang' and feeling the tremor," Zhu recalled, adding his house later collapsed following seven or eight aftershocks.
Villagers said most of the victims were the elderly and children.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters, armed police, soldiers and local government workers have been mobilized for the rescue.
Aftershocks and minor landslides with falling rocks were seen in the mountainous region following the quake, posing dangers for rescuers arriving at quake-hit villages.
As of noon on Monday, 371 aftershocks had been recorded in the zone, with the strongest registering a magnitude of 5.6, said Chang Zhengguo, spokesman with the provincial government.
In Meichuan Township, 15 km from the Minxian County seat, 31 people had died in the township as of noon on Monday, and the muddy roads to local villages were disrupted following days of heavy rain.
Local villagers were rushing to repair the road connecting the township and Majiagou Village, but vehicles were still unable to get into the village.
The drinking water supply was not affected, and food is urgently needed as most of the stocks had been buried in debris, said villager Bao Xuefeng.
Villagers who lost their homes also worried where to dwell for the night as more rain was forecast to come.
The weather forecast station of the provincial capital of Lanzhou on Monday released a red alert, the highest level of a four-color alert system, for rainstorms, forecasting heavy rain late on Monday in Dingxi City. Experts expect the rain will affect the quake relief and have warned about further rain-triggered disasters.
According to the Gansu Provincial Red Cross Society, it organized for a nearby disaster relief center to deliver 100 tents to the quake-hit area. Another 50 tents, 1,000 quilts and 1,000 items of cotton clothing were being prepared for delivery.
However, the operations of a major railway line in the province have been suspended because of heavy rain and subsequent landslides since Sunday. Landslides caused by torrential rain have forced mud and rocks onto rail tracks, causing rail collapses and disruption in part of the section linking Longxi County and Tianshui City.
An official with the Lanzhou Railway Bureau said it was not confirmed yet when operations would resume, but he said delivery of quake-relief goods is unaffected as rail transportation remains smooth between Lanzhou, Dingxi City and Longxi County.
Ouyang Jian, deputy secretary of the provincial committee of the Communist Party of China, urged vehicles unrelated to disaster relief to avoid roads in or near the quake-hit area, so that rescuers and goods could be delivered there speedily.