* Magnitude 6.6 quake strikes China's Sichuan province
* Epicentre near Ya'an city, felt in provincial capital
* Premier Li visits disaster area
By Michael Martina
YA'AN, China, April 20 China's worst earthquake
in three years on Saturday killed at least 157 people and
injured more than 5,700, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
The magnitude 6.6 quake hit a remote mountainous area of
southwestern China's Sichuan province at 8:02 a.m. (0002 GMT),
close to where an earthquake killed almost 70,000 people in
The quake struck in Lushan county, near the city of Ya'an,
at a depth of 12 km (7.5 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey
said. It was felt in the provincial capital, Chengdu, and in
neighbouring provinces, causing many people to rush out of
buildings, according to social network posts.
Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan. Pictures on
Chinese news sites showed toppled buildings and people in
bloodied bandages being treated in tents outside the hospital.
Water and electricity in the area were cut off by the quake.
Premier Li Keqiang flew into the disaster zone by helicopter
to voice support for the rescue operation.
"The first 72 hours is the golden period for rescue," Li
told officials, the Xinhua news agency reported. "We cannot
delay by a minute."
"Under the strong leadership of the party and the
government, as long as we unite as one, and conduct the rescue
in a scientific way, then there will be the conditions and the
ability to minimise the losses to the greatest degree and to
overcome the disaster," Li said.
Chen Yong, the vice director of the Ya'an city government
earthquake response office, told reporters: "We believe the
number (of deaths) could rise somewhat, but it won't rise by
Xinhua said 6,000 troops were in the area to help with
rescue efforts. State television CCTV said only emergency
vehicles were being allowed into Ya'an, although Chengdu airport
Rescuers in Lushan had pulled 91 survivors out of rubble,
Xinhua said. In villages closest to the epicentre, almost all
low-rise buildings had collapsed, footage on state television
"We are very busy right now, there are about eight or nine
injured people, the doctors are handling the cases," said a
doctor at a Ya'an hospital who gave her family name as Liu.
The hospital was treating head and leg injuries, she said.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies said it was in discussions with the Red Cross Society
of China on whether international support was needed.
The China Meteorological Association warned of the
possibility of landslides in Lushan county on Saturday and
Lushan recorded 789 aftershocks after the earthquake, the
China Earthquake Administration said.
A resident in Chengdu, 140 km (85 miles) from Ya'an city,
told Xinhua he was on the 13th floor of a building when he felt
the quake. The building shook for about 20 seconds and he saw
tiles fall from nearby buildings.
Ya'an is a city of 1.5 million people and is considered one
of the birthplaces of Chinese tea culture. It is also the home
to one of China's main centres for protecting the giant panda.
"There are still shakes and tremors and our area is safe.
The pandas are safe," said a spokesman for Ya'an's Bifengxia
nature park which houses more than 100 pandas.
Shouts and screams were heard in the background while
Reuters was on the telephone with the spokesman.
"There was just an aftershock, an aftershock, our office is
safe," he said.
Sichuan is one of the four major natural gas-producing
provinces in China, and its output accounts for about 14 percent
of the nation's total.
Sinopec Group, Asia's largest oil refiner, said its huge
Puguang gas field was unaffected.
The U.S. Geological Survey initially put the magnitude at 7,
but later revised it down. The devastating May 2008 quake was
In 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake killed 2,700 people in
Yushu, a largely Tibetan region in northwest China.