An earthquake in Yunnan province in southern China Sunday killed 410 people and injured more than 2,300, according to the latest official tolls. Rainstorms, aftershocks, and landslides have hampered rescue efforts, but Christians have flocked to the area to help search for survivors, as well as provide food, shelter, and medical care.
The 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit the mountainous region of Ludian County, about 230 miles north of Kunming, at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Aerial images show piles of wood where houses once stood. Nearly 22,550 homes collapsed, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Landslides produced by the quake and its aftershocks have created dams in nearby lakes, forcing about 800 villagers to evacuate for fear of flooding. The Chinese government has sent thousands of troops into the region, along with tents, quilts, sleeping bags, coats, beds, chairs, tables, and mobile toilets, Xinhua reported.
Ludian is a largely agricultural area, with mining and farming as its top industries. The government considers the area “especially poor” and blamed the damage on the flimsiness of the buildings and the region’s dense population. “Most rural houses in the county were made of brick or wood, were not designed to be resistant to quakes, and many of them were outdated,” said the China Earthquake Administration in a statement.
As early as Monday, Chinese churches sent about a dozen aid groups to the earthquake site to help with the relief, some traveling as far as Shanghai and Beijing. While these house churches, whose sizes range from a dozen to hundreds of congregants, are unregistered, their rescue efforts in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake helped them gain legitimacy with the government and turned the tide of public opinion towards faith-based charities. The Sichuan earthquake, which killed up to 90,000 people, “brought the shortcomings of the bureaucratic government starkly into focus, creating the opportunity, and indeed the necessity, for the charitable sector to thrive,” wrote Rebecca Lee, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, in The Weekly Standard.
After the quake, some of the organizations stayed in the area to build schools and help those in need, while others returned home with disaster relief training and experience under their belt. So when news broke about the Yunnan earthquake, the groups were able to quickly organize and dispatch volunteers to Ludian, said Zhang Hualin, whose Wenzhou church has sent members. They are working alongside military combing through the rubble to find trapped survivors, help purify drinking water, and transport tents and coats to protect survivors from storms that have plagued the area since the temblor.
One group of university students from Beijing happened to already be in the Yunnan area for a short-term medical mission trip when the earthquake hit, and they quickly mobilized to help quake victims. Volunteers tell Zhang that in some areas, the heavy rains have blocked off roads, leaving some without food or clean water. Electricity is out, and while the government has airlifted some supplies into the area, many are still waiting for basic necessities.
Churches around the country are also raising funds to send to local congregations in the area to help with the relief effort. The region is earthquake-prone: In 1970, a 7.7 quake killed at least 15,000 people, and a series of earthquakes in 2012 killed 81.