Some felt "dizzy," others felt as if their chairs were pulled by "invisible hands," but an earthquake that jolted a county near the Chinese capital at midday yesterday seemed not to have wrecked significant damage to people or property.
"The quake, measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, caused no injury to either humans or animals, except leaving cracks on at least 210 houses," said Ma Yingcai, an official in Wen'an County in North China's Hebei Province, which borders Beijing.
Immediately following the quake, which struck at 11:56 am, the local government set up a rescue headquarters, sending assessment staff to villages, and used TV and loudspeakers to inform the 430,000 residents what had happened, he said.
People whose homes were damaged have been relocated, he added.
Aftershocks were expected to strike the region, but they would probably be smaller than the midday quake, Huang Jianfa, a division director of the China Earthquake Administration, told China Daily.
"It is normal for less severe aftershocks to occur within a week following a major tremor," said Huang.
Huang was among a team sent in by the earthquake agency early yesterday afternoon to enhance monitoring and assess damage in Wen'an.
At least 17 earthquakes similar to the one in Wen'an occur in China every year, Huang said.
The impact on the county was far lighter than expected, and it seemed the earthquake had aroused stronger reactions in Beijing and Tianjin than in Wen'an, where life was all but unscathed, he later told a news briefing.
A scheduled open-air movie showing went ahead as planned in Wen'an last night, with several hundred people watching in a square in front of the county government, with pedestrians and traffic filling the streets as usual.
In Wenxinyang Village, near the county downtown, 360 pupils in a primary school will continue their classes elsewhere today, after big cracks appeared in their school, leading to it being classified "a dangerous building," schoolmaster Ma Jinming said.
Sun Ronghua, the only doctor in the worst hit Bijiafang Village, said she received no patients wounded in the quake yesterday afternoon.
The earthquake did however alarm some people.
Villager Bi Chunying, 58, said he would keep his door open at night and sleep with his clothes on.
Seismic waves spread to Beijing, 120 kilometres north, Tianjin, 80 kilometres northeast, and even to Shandong and Shanxi provinces yesterday at noon, before finding their way on to headlines in cyberspace.
Wang Yelun, a Beijing resident, said he was startled when, sitting in a restaurant, he felt as though someone was pulling his chair.
"Many people realized it was an earthquake and rushed out of the restaurant," he said.
A woman patient at No 1 Central Hospital in Tianjin, who identified herself only as Wang, said at first she thought her relatives were shaking her bed and she felt "dizzy" when it shook for a third time.
For many people yesterday's quake was a reminder of the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Tangshan city 30 years ago.
Also in Hebei Province, about 200 kilometres east of Beijing, the Tangshan earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, left 240,000 dead and 160,000 seriously injured.
Experts with the China Earthquake Administration advised Beijing residents not to believe rumours or panic, as buildings in the capital have been designed to resist earthquakes with a seismic intensity scale rating of VIII, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The seismic intensity scale is a way of rating the effects of an earthquake at different sites. Intensity ratings are expressed as Roman numerals between I at the low end and XII at the high end.
(China Daily 07/05/2006 page1)