Beijing, April 20 (IANS) At least 152 people were killed and more than 3,000 others injured Saturday when a devastating earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck southwest China's Sichuan province, adjacent to a region where an 8.0-magnitude quake in 2008 left 69,000 people dead while 18,000 are still missing.
The earthquake hit Lushan county of Ya'an city at 8.02 a.m., Xinhua cited the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) as saying.
More than 3,000 people were injured in the earthquake, the Lushan county publicity department said.
The epicenter, with a depth of 13 km, was monitored at 30.3 degrees north latitude and 103.0 degrees east longitude.
Ya'an has a population of 1.53 million and is known as the hometown of the giant panda. It is about 140 km from the provincial capital Chengdu.
Firefighters pulled out 49 survivors from collapsed structures, the ministry of public security said. Among the survivors was a pregnant woman and two children. About 1,500 people have been evacuated to safer places.
Water and electricity supply in the county was cut off due to the quake. Most of the buildings in the old urban area of Lushan county and Longmen township collapsed.
Landslides blocked traffic in many places across the county and two barrier lakes caused by the landslides were posing risks in the rescue effort, officials said. Many vehicles were damaged by rolling rocks.
A total of 264 aftershocks had been monitored as of 12 p.m., two of which were above 5.0-magnitude, according to the CENC.
The strongest aftershock after the quake was measured at 5.3-magnitude. It jolted the border areas between the counties of Lushan and Tianquan at 11.34 a.m., the provincial seismological bureau said.
About 400 policemen arrived in Lushan to assist in the rescue efforts. More than 1,400 rescuers from the provincial fire-fighting department have also been deployed.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission has dispatched a medical emergency response team consisting of more than 180 doctors.
Another team, comprising 19 doctors from the General Hospital of Armed Police Forces, are taking surgery equipment and more than 5,000 types of medicine to the region.
The hardest-hit areas are the townships of Longmen and Qingren, said an official with the provincial armed police corps.
The China Earthquake Administration (CEA) said the quake originated in the Longmenshan fracture zone. A total of 12 earthquakes at 5.0-magnitude or above have occurred in the area within 100 km of its epicentre since 1900, including a devastating 8.0-magnitude quake in Wenchuan in 2008 that left 87,000 people dead or missing.
A team of over 600 firefighters with 110 fire-fighting vehicles and six sniffer dogs, as well as a medical team have been sent to the quake-hit region. More than 6,000 military and armed police personnel and several aircraft have also been dispatched to help in rescue efforts.
The ministry of civil affairs has dispatched relief materials, including 30,000 tents, 50,000 blankets and 10,000 make-shift beds.
Meanwhile, the Bifeng Gorge base, a panda research base affiliated to the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center which is only 47 km from the epicentre, reported no human or panda casualties.
About 200 technicians from China Mobile Limited have been dispatched to the disaster-hit areas to repair the telecom network.
President Xi Jinping ordered rescuers to make "every possible effort".
The quake has caused severe losses to the security of people's lives and properties, Xi said in his instruction to the armed forces and police.
The troops must be quickly dispatched to the frontline of the quake-relief work to rescue residents and treat the injured in every possible way, he said.
Premier Li Keqiang reached Sichuan to direct quake-relief work.
"The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours after the quake's occurrence, the golden time for saving lives, to take scientific rescue measures and save peoples' lives," Li said.
Meanwhile, Russia Saturday offered to help China in dealing with the aftermath of the powerful earthquake.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to Xi Jinping over the deadly disaster and assured that Moscow was ready to "provide assistance" in the aftermath of the quake, RIA Novosti cited the Kremlin as saying in a statement.
In a telegram sent to Xi Jinping, Putin said: "Russia is ready to offer help, if needed, in liquidating the consequences of this devastating disaster."
Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius said Russia would send "rescuers, a mobile hospital and humanitarian cargoes" if China asks for help.
Germany, Japan, Thailand, Nepal and Tanzania also conveyed condolences to China.
China also dispatched five drones to capture images of the quake-hit areas, according to the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation.
The drones will cover the hardest-hit Baoxing, Taiping and Longmen townships.
The administration has already obtained satellite images of pre-disaster Lushan county through the Ziyuan III satellite.
It published satellite images of quake-hit areas on www.tianditu.cn, and will publish the latest drone images when they are available.