China’s authorities announced on Wednesday that they were wrapping up earthquake rescue operations and would now concentrate on treating the injured and assisting those who had lost their houses.
The 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck Gansu province on Monday night, killing 131 people and wounding almost 1,000 others in the mountainous region.
Thousands of laborers have been working in temperatures below zero.
Temperatures reached -13C (8.7F) on Tuesday, according to Chinese media. Northern China is experiencing a cold spell, with many cities reporting record low temperatures.
Sixteen people are still missing in Gansu’s neighboring Qinghai province.
Mudslides caused by the earthquake struck many other structures in the province, while landslides destroyed roadways. Images from the area showed entire communities ripped apart by the earthquake, as well as collapsed buildings and houses.
Residents who had evacuated their homes were also seen huddling around improvised fires in hastily constructed evacuation camps. Survivors described the shocks as “being tossed by surging waves” and described fleeing their apartments.
“I woke my family up, and we rushed down all 16 floors in one breath,” one guy named Mr Qin told the BBC.
The tremor on Monday was China’s deadliest since 2014, when a quake in south-western Yunnan province killed over 600 people.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping dispatched thousands of firefighters, troops, police officers, and medical staff to the region, which is among China’s poorest and most varied.
Gansu borders Mongolia and is located between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus. The rural area is one of the poorest and most ethnically diverse in China.
The epicenter of the earthquake was in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to various Chinese Muslim groups including as the Hui, Bonan, Dongxiang, and Salar.
The quake reached 6.2 on the Richter scale, according to Chinese authorities, while the US Geological Survey (USGS) estimated a magnitude of 5.9 and a depth of 10km (6 miles). Following the first quake, dozens more minor aftershocks occurred.
Officials also warned of the possibility of tremors with magnitudes greater than 5.0 in the following days. Officials told the BBC on Monday that they only had a limited amount of time to rescue individuals in the subzero temperatures.
According to President Xi, “all efforts should be made to carry out search and rescue, treat the injured in a timely manner, and minimise casualties” .
China is located in an area where several tectonic plates converge, most notably the Eurasian, Indian, and Pacific plates. It is very vulnerable to earthquakes. In 2010, an earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai province, near Gansu, killed about 2,700 people.
The most severe earthquake in recent Chinese history struck the south-western province of Sichuan in 2008, killing 87,000 people.