A magnitude 7.1 earthquake in a remote part of China’s western Xinjiang region killed at least three people and caused extensive damage in freezing weather, officials have said.
They suggested the area’s sparse population contributed to the “very strong” earthquake’s low death toll.
The earthquake rocked Uchturpan county in Aksu prefecture shortly after 2am on Tuesday, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said.
Rescue crews went to the area, with about 1,000 on hand by 12pm.
By evening, authorities said three people had died and five were injured, two seriously, in the county that is also called Wushi in Mandarin.
Rescue crews combed through the rubble.
Emergency survival gear — including coats and tents to help the thousands of people who fled their homes — had arrived or were on their way, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The quake’s epicentre was in a mountainous area about 3,000 metres (9,800 feet) above sea level, Zhang Yongjiu, the head of Xinjiang Earthquake Administration, told a press conference.
“This 7.1 rating is very strong but the death and injury situation is not severe,” Mr Zhang said.
The area is populated mostly by Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnicity that is predominantly Muslim and has been the target of a state campaign of forced assimilation and mass detention.
The region is heavily militarised and state broadcaster CCTV showed paramilitary troops moving in before dawn to clear rubble and set up tents for those displaced.
Jian Gewa, a 16-year-old student in Uchturpan, said he was in the bathroom when the earthquake began. The building shook violently.
“I just thought I had to get myself to safety as quickly as possible,” Jian said.
The mountainous Uchturpan county is recording temperatures well below freezing, with the China Meteorological Administration forecasting lows reaching minus 18C this week.
The county had around 233,000 people in 2022, according to Xinjiang authorities.
The earthquake downed power lines but electricity was quickly restored, Aksu authorities said.
The Urumqi Railroad Bureau resumed services after 7am following safety checks that confirmed no problems on railway lines.
The suspension affected 23 trains, the bureau serving the Xinjiang capital said on its official Weibo account.
The US Geological Survey said the area’s largest earthquake in the past century was also magnitude 7.1 and occurred in 1978, about 124 miles to the north of Tuesday’s epicentre.
Multiple aftershocks were recorded on Tuesday, with the strongest measured at 5.3 magnitude.
Tremors were felt hundreds of miles away.
Ma Shengyi, a 30-year-old pet shop owner in Tacheng, 373 miles from the epicentre, said her dogs started barking before she felt her apartment building shudder.
Her neighbours ran downstairs. Ms Ma rushed to her bathroom and started to cry.
“There’s no point in running away if it’s a big earthquake,” Ms Ma said.
“I was scared to death.”
Tremors were also felt in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Videos posted on the Telegram messaging platform showed people in the Kazakh city of Almaty running downstairs in apartment blocks and standing in the street, some of them wearing shorts in the freezing weather.
In Xinjiang and Kazakhstan, classes were suspended to allow children to recover from the shock.
Earthquakes are common in western China.
A 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Gansu province in December killed 151 people and was China’s deadliest quake in nine years.
An earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008 killed nearly 90,000.