“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 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the epicenter. The clerk surnamed Bao refrained from identifying herself further, as is common among ordinary Chinese.
Tremors were felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 177 kilometers (110 miles) north, and as far away as Xi’an, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east.
The government’s earthquake monitoring center said the initial quake at 7:45 a.m. (2345 GMT Sunday) 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 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) beneath the surface, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) deep. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude of the initial quake as 5.9 and the depth at 10 kilometers (6 miles).
Initial measurements of an earthquake can vary widely, especially if different monitoring equipment is used.
Su Wei, leader of a 120-member rescue team from the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, told state broadcaster CCTV that they were on their way to the epicenter, but progress was being slowed by mud and rock slides blocking the road.
The Chinese Red Cross said it was shipping 200 tents, 1,000 sets of household items, and 2,000 jackets to the area and sending teams from both Lanzhou and Beijing to help with relief work and assess further needs.
Heavy rain is expected in the area later in the week, raising the need for shelter and increasing the chance of further landslides.
Almost 2,000 homes were either destroyed or heavily damaged, with thousands more suffering partial damage, according to the Dingxi government website. It said 14,066 households were without power and five county and township roads had been cut.