Magnitude 7.8 quake in Sichuan province is followed by 8 magnitude 5 aftershocks, says RMS

RMS issued the following update on the China earthquake.

A strong moment magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Eastern Sichuan Province, China. It occurred in a mountainous region to the north-west of Chengdu and at least eight aftershocks larger than magnitude 5.0 have occurred, the largest of which was a magnitude 6.0. This part of China has previously experienced destructive earthquakes including a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that occurred in 1933 which killed nearly 7,000 people.

At 16.00 BST, May 12, over 7,000 casualties had been reported. More than 100 fatalities occurred from the collapse of a school in Dujiangyan City, some 25 miles (40 km) from the epicentre, and four casualties were reported from another school falling down in Liangping. Damage has been reported from a very broad area, with a building collapsing over 190 miles (300km) away.

Domenico del Re, senior model manager at RMS in London, commented: ‘The extent of the destruction at the epicentre is still unknown because of a widespread communication black-out, which could either be due to infrastructure damage from the earthquake or from over-use. Our scientific partners in China, The Institute of Engineering Mechanics, are sending over 20 people to the affected region to provide more insight into the damage incurred.’

Most of the damage reports so far are from Chengdu, which is the 10th largest city by GDP in the country, with some 4.5m people. Because of the rapid growth of the city in the last 30 years, the majority of buildings were constructed after 1978, when buildings were required to be made more resistant to earthquakes.

‘As the west coast of China has become increasingly expensive, many domestic and international companies have set up operations in Chengdu to take advantage of the lower property and labor costs. Although many of the commercial buildings will have been constructed to withstand some level of ground-shaking from earthquakes, we can expect to see a large number of insurance claims coming from this area,’ said Mr. del Re.

‘This event is a reminder for organizations considering moving into China that business continuity insurance should be a risk management priority, due to the country’s susceptibility to earthquakes.’

The closest town to the epicentral region is the town of Wenchuan itself, which lies on the Minjiang River. Though 30 miles (50 km) away from the epicentre, this town appears to be close to the fault structure itself, so damage is expected to be significant. Wenchuan is reported to have a population of 118,000.

The earthquake also caused shaking in Bangkok, Hong Kong and in Shanghai, over 930 miles (1500km) away from the epicentre. A number of high-rise office buildings were evacuated in Beijing and Shanghai, but there are no immediate reports of damage or injuries in these cities.