Reporting from Beijing -- A strong earthquake struck China’s mountainous Sichuan province Saturday morning, leaving at least 113 people dead and more than 3,000 injured.
Chinese authorities assessed the magnitude of the quake at 7.0, while the U.S. Geological Survey reported 6.6.
Although nowhere near in magnitude, the tremor evoked troubling memories of the great earthquake almost exactly five years ago along the same fault line that killed almost 90,000.
The earthquake’s epicenter was about 80 miles southwest of the provincial capital of Chengdu, in Lushan country near the city of Ya’an. The city of 1.5 milion is best-known for its panda breeding research center, which was reported not to have sustained serious damage.
Jiang Haikun, an official with the China Earthquake Network Center, told the official New China news agency that Saturday’s quake is similar to the May 12, 2008, disaster centered in Wenchuan -- about 150 miles away -- as both occurred on the same Longmen mountain fault zone.
Officials also warned of aftershocks and secondary disasters such as landslides and road and cave collapses, especially since a light rain was falling over the mountainous area Saturday.
The 8 a.m. quake jolted residents out of bed, and people ran into the streets wearing their pajamas, according to reports from the scene.
“We were very calm. We have gained experience from the last earthquake. It took us 30 seconds to leave everything and run,” one middle-aged man told Chinese media.
A 22-year-old woman despaired that her house survived the first earthquake, but not this latest one.
“When the May 12th earthquake happened, I thought I was lucky .... I still had a home to go back to. Now our house can’t be lived in anymore. I feel really lost. Where I should go? What I should do after all this?’’ she wrote on a microblog posting.
The rescue effort will be a test for the newly installed government of Xi Jinping, who took over as president in March. His premier, Li Keqiang, toured the earthquake-stricken area Saturday.
“The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours after the quake’s occurrence, the golden time for saving lives, to take scientific rescue measures and save peoples’ lives,” Li was quoted as telling state media.
About 2,000 soldiers from Chengdu command of the People’s Liberation Army were rushed to the epicenter, while two helicopters hovered overhead assessing the damage below.
Compounding the tragedy, a military vehicle carrying 17 soldiers slid off a cliff into a river, killing one soldier and seriously injuring three.