Tourists Evacuated as Rescue Teams Scour Sichuan Tourist Town For Quake Survivors

Local residents and tourists alike slept out on the street for fear of being trapped, as the area was rocked by aftershocks.

Earthquake victims in the Chinese resort town of Jiuzhaigou sleep in the streets amid aftershocks from a strong earthquake that struck the remote, scenic region on Aug. 8, 2017.

Rescuers continued to search for people buried in rubble on Wednesday following last night's 7.0 magnitude earthquake in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, in which 19 people are confirmed to have died.

Eight tourists were among the dead after the tremor rocked the popular scenic destination during the summer vacation, while 247 people were reported injured, official figures said.

The worst-hit area lies in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, some 200 km (120 miles) northwest of Sichuan's Guangyuan city, close to the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, a favorite tourist destination, and in an area sparsely populated with Tibetan nomads.

The authorities confirmed they are evacuating some 45,000 tourists from the area, as well as local residents cut off by landslides and rockfalls.

Many spent the night out in the open for fear of being trapped in a collapsing building.

Official media said rescue teams included disaster relief units, police, firefighters, armed forces, geologists, medical staff, infrastructure maintenance teams, transport authorities, and fuel suppliers.

Rescuers were using sniffer dogs, life detectors, drones and laser sensors to find people buried in the rubble, with more than 1,300 armed police and 1,100 firefighters dispatched to the area.

An employee who answered the phone at the Jiuzhaigou County People's Hospital on Wednesday declined to comment.

"Our boss has the clearest picture of the situation," the employee said. "But he's pretty busy right now, so could you please call back later?"

'We are sleeping in the road'

But repeated calls to the hospital at a later time rang unanswered.

A guest who had been staying at a hotel near the worst-hit area said they her family was in their room when the quake struck on Tuesday evening.

"We brought our kid here on vacation for the summer holidays," the woman, surnamed Zhou, told RFA. "We were having fun in Jiuzhaigou, when the hotel room suddenly started rocking, and the light was swaying."

"We were so scared that we rushed outside, and saw that everyone else was running out too. Since then, we haven't dared go back into the room to sleep, but everyone is wrapped up in the quilts from the hotel. We are sleeping in the road."

A Jiuzhaigou taxi-driver surnamed Tang said buildings are continuing to collapse in the wake of the 7.0 magnitude tremor, and that thousands of rescue workers have arrived in the town, searching for anyone missing.

"It happened at just past 9.00 p.m. yesterday evening, and a lot of people left their beds to run outside," Tang said. "They were screaming in terror."

"After that, I spent the whole night in my taxi."

Tourists leaving

Tang said there were a number of "pretty big" aftershocks that scared people further.

"Today, a lot of rescue vehicles drove into the area, and we were given free food and drinking water when we came out."

A local resident surnamed Lu said his family has stayed in their home because they felt the quake wasn't as serious as many in the region, and chose not to leave with the rescue teams, however.

"The government is arranging for the tourists to be taken to Mianyang city and [provincial capital] Chengdu, but we don't need rescuing," Lu said. "We are rescuing others."

"The government has sent rescue workers, as well as people to clear the roads [of rocks and mud]."

Photos of the rescue operation showed large piles of rubble from collapsed buildings and rocks from nearby hillsides on a section of road near Jiuzhaigou, with glass broken in many parked vehicles, with damage visible to tourist buses.

Other photos showed a fleeing parent with a screaming child on their back, and schoolchildren receiving medical treatment.

An employee who answered the phone at the Jiuzhaigou county government offices on Wednesday declined to comment in detail on the aftermath of the quake.

"You'll have to stick to the official version issued by the Jiuzhaigou government," she said. "We haven't had time to count the casualties yet; we are all pretty busy here."

"Just stick to whatever the Jiuzhaigou government puts out; we can't talk to you about the disaster here," she said. Asked if the tourists were leaving, she replied: "They're in the process of leaving."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.