A powerful earthquake rattled the hillsides of China’s southwestern Sichuan province today, killing at least 156 people and injuring 5,500, according to early estimates.
The quake hit the same region devastated by a much stronger temblor in 2008. Saturday’s quake registered a 6.6 on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Richter scale, but its shallow depth—just 8 miles—magnified the impact.
Striking just after 8 a.m. local time, the quake toppled buildings, triggered landslides, and disrupted phone and power lines in the mountains. Officials say the village of Longmen was hit especially hard, with almost all its buildings destroyed.
Rescuers had to dynamite boulders that fell across roads to reach Longmen and other damaged areas farther up the mountain valleys, state media reported.
As night fell, rain rolled into the region, hampering rescue efforts. Forecasts called for more rain in the next several days, and the China Meteorological Administration warned of possible landslides and other geological disasters.
Tens of thousands of people moved into tents or cars, unable to return home or too afraid to go back as aftershocks continued to jolt the region.
The government mobilized thousands of soldiers and other first responders—7,000 people by Saturday afternoon—sending excavators and other heavy machinery as well as tents, blankets, and other emergency supplies. Two soldiers died when the vehicle they and more than a dozen others were in slipped off the road and rolled down a cliff, state media reported.
The Chinese Red Cross deployed relief teams with supplies of food, water, medicine, and rescue equipment to the disaster area.
The country’s earthquake administration said there had been at least 627 aftershocks, including two registering a magnitude of 5.0 or higher.