The Associated Press
BEIJING -- Two strong earthquakes struck a remote region of northwestern China's desert, killing at least four people and seriously injuring eight others, the government said earlier today.
The quakes -- magnitudes 6.1 and 5.8 -- hit Gansu province at 8:41 p.m. and 8:48 p.m. Saturday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported from Lanzhou, the provincial capital. Another 17 people suffered minor injuries, it said.
A magnitude 6 earthquake can cause severe damage.
The agency said the areas hit hardest by the quakes were near the city of Zhangye. Xinhua, quoting the provincial seismological bureau, said 30 percent of houses near the epicenters were damaged severely and 90 percent of buildings in Yaozhaizi, a nearby village, collapsed.
The epicenters were about 310 miles northwest of Lanzhou, Xinhua said.
The Hong Kong Observatory reported one "intense" temblor at 8:46 p.m. Saturday and said the epicenter was at the border of Gansu province with neighboring Qinghai province. It estimated the magnitude at 6.1.
A government task force was en route to the area earlier this morning.
Earlier this month, a strong earthquake rumbled through a remote, seismically active area of China's mountainous southwest, killing three people and felling at least 50 houses in an ethnic minority enclave in Yunnan province. Fourteen people were seriously injured in Dayao County.
In July, a 6.2-magnitude quake in Dayao county killed at least 15 people and injured 294. Local officials said many residents were still rebuilding homes damaged in the earlier quake when the temblor Thursday night caused further destruction.
The deadliest earthquake in China this year struck Feb. 24 near Kashgar in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, killing 268 people. Xinjiang abuts Gansu.
The worst earthquake in China's recent history hit on July 28, 1976, in the northeastern city of Tangshan, not far from Beijing -- a tremor whose magnitude was as high as 8.2. More than 240,000 people were killed.