China earthquake: Earthquake kills at least 21 during Covid lockdown in Sichuan city of Chengdu

The earthquake shook rocks onto the road in Sichuan, southwestern China. Credit: AP

China's state media says at least 21 people have been killed in a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the southwestern province of Sichuan.

The quake triggered landslides and shook buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu, whose 21 million residents were already under a Covid lockdown.

The shake struck a mountainous area in Luding county shortly after noon, local time, on Monday, the China Earthquake Networks Center said.

Sichuan, which sits on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, where tectonic plates meet, is regularly shaken by earthquakes. Two tremors in June killed at least four people.

China’s deadliest earthquake in recent years was a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2008, which killed nearly 90,000 people in Sichuan.

Covid screening in Chengdu, Sichuan, at the end of August as Chinese authorities locked down the southwestern city of 21 million. Credit: AP

One landslide blocked a rural highway, leaving it strewn with rocks, the Ministry of Emergency Management said.

The quake was felt 200 kilometres away in the provincial capital, Chengdu, where a Covid outbreak has restricted most of its 21 million residents to their compounds under China's strict “zero-Covid” policy.

Resident Jiang Danli said she hid under a desk for five minutes in her 31st floor apartment, while many of her neighbours rushed downstairs.

“There was a strong earthquake in June, but it wasn’t very scary. This time I was really scared, because I live on a high floor and the shaking made me dizzy,” she said.

The earthquake and lockdown follow a heat wave and drought that led to water shortages and power cuts due to Sichuan’s reliance on hydropower.

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The past two months in Chengdu “have been weird," Jiang said.

The US Geological Survey recorded a magnitude of 6.6 for Monday's quake at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres. Preliminary measurements by different agencies often differ slightly.

The temblor devastated towns, schools and rural communities outside Chengdu, leading to a years-long effort to rebuild with more resistant materials.