On 8:02 AM, China time, a 6.9 earthquake hit Ya’an, Sichuan province, a city of 1.5 million not far from Chengdu, the provincial capital. In just an hour, a notice about the earthquake had 84,000 retweets and over 7,000 comments. The tremors woke many in Chengdu, Sichuan, a city of 14 million, and were felt in neighboring provinces. The quake brought back memories for many, as almost five years ago, on May 18, 2008, a 7.9 earthquake hit Sichuan province and killed tens of thousands.
Some users commented on official updates to add information. “The earthquake was felt in Guizhou,” wrote one. Another added, “I was sleeping in Changsha [Hunan province]; it woke me up.” Others simply offered prayers for the safety of those affected. Even Xinhua’s official Weibo presence extended a heartfelt wish: “We pray together for the safety of those in the disaster area.”
China Rescue, an organization engaged in earthquake relief, asked netizens to participate in information gathering: “Friends who have felt the quake, please comment; friends who have not felt it, please retweets without commenting. Friends who have felt it, please note your location, how strongly you felt the quake, and the degree of damage that you see.” Updates about the aftershocks hitting Ya’an – seven at last count – continued on Weibo.
Ran Wang, an investor and businessman, posted his own hopes for the aftermath:
Hopes for the Ya’an Earthquake: 1) Rescue efforts are timely and orderly, keeping deaths and injuries as low as possible 2) media are permitted to report freely, and there is no censorship, cover-ups, or control, the rights of the people and society to be informed during natural disasters is respected; 3) NGOs are allowed to actively help in accordance with clear regulations and under third-party supervision, official charity organizations are not given the opportunity to steal money.
There are no official casualty figures yet, but netizens have reported that there are dead and wounded in the disaster area. Despite varying accounts of the quake’s severity – Xinhua initially reported 5.9, then corrected to 7.0, while the AP reports 6.9 – all major media outlets and citizen journalists are in agreement that this is the most severe earthquake to hit China since 2008.