Thousands Still Shelter In Freezing Weather After 7.1 Quake In Western China Killed Key Livestock

Children play near tents set up for displaced residents of the recent earthquake in Yamansu township of Uchturpan county, Aksu prefecture in western China's Xinjiang region, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. As aftershocks continued to rock western China on Wednesday, thousands of people were staying in tents and other shelters, lighting bonfires to fend off the freezing weather. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Children play near tents set up for displaced residents of the recent earthquake in Yamansu township of Uchturpan county, Aksu prefecture in western China's Xinjiang region, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. As aftershocks continued to rock western China on Wednesday, thousands of people were staying in tents and other shelters, lighting bonfires to fend off the freezing weather. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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UCHTURPAN, China (AP) — Aftershocks from a magnitude 7.1 earthquake continued to rock western China on Wednesday, while more than 12,000 displaced people relying on tents and shelters lit bonfires to fend off freezing weather.

The quake early Tuesday in a remote part of China's Xinjiang region killed three people and left five injured, owing both to the sparse population and efforts in recent years to improve the durability of housing around the epicenter in Uchturpan county, near the border with Kyrgyzstan.

But at least several hundred livestock, key to local livelihoods, were killed.

Footage shown by state broadcaster CCTV showed evacuees eating instant noodles in tents, with bonfires providing heat. Local officials said they planned to check houses for stability before people could return.

Towns and villages were scattered across an otherwise barren landscape. A two-lane highway runs about 125 kilometers (78 miles) from the nearest city of Aksu, with power lines and an occasional cement factory virtually the only signs of human presence.

The area is populated mostly by Kyrgyz and Uyghurs, ethnic Turkic minorities who are predominantly Muslim and have been the target of a state campaign of forced assimilation and mass detention. The region is heavily militarized, and state broadcaster CCTV showed paramilitary troops moving in to clear rubble and set up tents for those displaced.

Two of the three people who died were members of a Kyrgyz sheep herding family who had brought their flock up a mountain and spent the night in their rest hut, said Shi Chao, the Communist Party head of Kulansarike township.

Rescuers found the family of three, including a 6-year old girl, and brought them down the mountain but only the father survived, Shi said.

The township has been replacing the huts with sturdier structures partially subsidized by the government, he said.

The third death happened elsewhere in Akqi county, where 7,338 residents were evacuated.

In Kizilsu Kirgiz prefecture, the earthquake caused damage of various degrees to 851 buildings, causing the collapse of 93 structures near the epicenter, according to the prefecture deputy party secretary, Wurouziali Haxihaerbayi.

The quake’s epicenter was in a mountainous area about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above sea level, according to Zhang Yongjiu, the head of Xinjiang Earthquake Administration.

In the township of Yamansu, about 115 people were staying in a Communist Party meeting hall on Wednesday. Medical staff checked on older residents.

Outside, men chatted around a large wood-burning cooker, with chunks of meat and vegetables in containers sitting on weathered desks. A light layer of snow covered the ground as temperatures remained well below freezing.

Resident Nurahun Osman said his family’s home almost collapsed when the earthquake struck.

“The situation was particularly horrific,” he said, adding that the family's sheep and chickens were left without shelter. "It has brought a lot of difficulties to our life.”

State broadcaster CCTV said 1,104 aftershocks, including five above magnitude 5.0, were recorded as of 8:00 a.m. Wednesday. The largest registered at magnitude 5.7.

Mountainous Uchturpan county is recording temperatures well below freezing, with the China Meteorological Administration forecasting lows reaching minus 18 degrees Celsius (just below zero Fahrenheit) this week.

The county had a population of around 233,000 in 2022, according to Xinjiang authorities.

Tremors from Tuesday's quake also were felt hundreds of kilometers (miles) away in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.