2/24/2003 China Earthquake

Updated 2/27/2003

The earthquake was given a magnitude of 6.4 by the US Geological Survey. It struck at 02:03 GMT Monday morning. This was 10:03 local time but because the area is in the extreme west of China's one time zone, it was shortly after dawn and many people were at breakfast. Others had just started school or work. The epicenter was in Xinjiang province 65 miles from the city of Kashi. This is in the extreme west of China, 2070 miles west of Beijing. It is generally poor, sparsely populated region, inhabited by Uighurs, a Muslim people, related to those in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries nearby.

The death toll was confirmed at 266, following strong aftershocks on 2/25/03 that killed 5 more people, including some rescue workers. Estimates of injuries range from 1,000 to 4,000. Over 9,000 buildings were destroyed. Most casualties were caused when people were trapped in their collapsing houses. CNN reported: "Almost all the dead were in Bachu County, where flimsy building construction seemed to have contributed to the death toll, officials said. The neighboring county of Jiashi was closer to the epicenter but suffered little damage; its homes have been reinforced following severe quakes in recent years."

The BBC reported: "The quake had a severe effect on the local economy, which is heavily dependent on farming. Some 11,000 cattle were killed and at just one farm in Qiongkuerqiake, 190 sheep were crushed. Local residents cannot eat them because they have not been butchered according to Muslim tradition. "

The army immediately sent in rescue crews to help dig survivors out of the rubble. Dogs are also being used to locate survivors. The Chinese government is providing aid but has not issued an international appeal.

This quake was casued by the collision between the Indian Sub-continent, which is plowing northward into Asia. This collision raised the Himalayan Range and causes earthquakes throughout the whole Central Asian region. The USGS describes this process as follows:

"This earthquake occurred near the boundary between the Tarim Basin and the Tian Shan mountain range in the north-west Tarim Basin. In a broad sense, earthquakes in this region result from stresses induced by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian continental plates, even though the boundary between these plates lies about 1000 km to the south.

The Indian Plate continuously moves northward at a rate of 4.5 cm per year relative to the Eurasian Plate generating massive mountain ranges including the Himalaya and causing the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau. These stresses are transmitted to the north, through the rigid and undeforming Tarim Basin, where they generate the Tian Shan mountains and numerous earthquakes like this recent event. Several nearby mapped faults have orientations similar to the thrust fault that the earthquake occurred on, although seismologists have not yet associated the quake with a specific fault.

The region surrounding this earthquake has produced several deadly earthquakes in the past decade. The most destructive include a magnitude 6.3 event on March 19, 1996, a magnitude 5.9 on January 21, and a magnitude 6.2 on April 11, 1997. Each quake killed between 10 and 24 people, and destroyed thousands of buildings. The most recent significant earthquake occurred on August 27, 1998 killing 2 and destroying 3,600 homes. " (See the Plate Tectonics page for more information on these processes.)

USGS Bulletin for the 2/24/03 China quake

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