Dams and Earthquakes

Quake hits central China, 600 km downstream of Three Gorges

November 26, 2005

The 5.7-magnitude earthquake, the biggest in the region in half a century, does not appear to have affected the Three Gorges project. It does, however, highlight experts’ concerns about building the world’s biggest dam in a geologically fragile area.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.7 struck the city of Ruichang and nearby tourist town of Jiujiang in east China’s Jiangxi province early Saturday, killing at least 15 people and injuring more than 8,000 others. The quake, the biggest in the region in half a century, could be felt in cities hundreds of kilometres away when it hit at 8:49 a.m. Saturday, according to the China National Seismic Observation Network. “We’d just finished our breakfast, when we heard a huge roar, like someone setting off really loud firecrackers,” a Civil Affairs official surnamed Liu told Agence France-Presse. “Then, the houses started shaking, and we just jumped outside.” About 150,000 houses in Jiangxi were destroyed in the quake, and more than 600,000 residents have been moved to safety, China Daily reported Monday. More than 200 aftershocks were felt in the region, and residents stayed outside, fearing further tremors. “Basically, everyone in Ruichang is out huddling in the street,” Mr. Liu was quoted as saying. China’s state seismological bureau reported that five of the deaths occurred in Ruichang, seven in Jiujiang county and two in the nearby city of Wuxue. The tremor shook Wuhan, 100 kilometres away. The largest industrial city in central China, Wuhan is located 500 km downstream of the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River. Sina.com website carried photos taken in the city, showing cracked walls and toppled mannequins inside shops. “It felt like someone was yanking you violently,” a Wuhan resident was quoted as saying. The tremor could also be felt in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province located 300 kilometres away from the epicentre. While there have been no reports of damage to the Three Gorges project, the earthquake highlights experts’ concerns that the world’s biggest dam has been built in a geologically fragile area that is prone to quakes and landslides. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake occurred about 10 kilometres below the surface of the earth. That makes it a “shallow” earthquake, similar to the devastating quake that struck Pakistan on Oct. 8. Shallow quakes generally cause greater damage than deeper ones. Sources: AFP, Xinhua, China Daily, Reuters, sina.com

Related story: Dam on dangerous ground

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