News broke overnight that two earthquakes hit China, but read the numbers a second time and they offer a small but striking reminder of just how crowded and vulnerable to disaster parts of that country are. Friday's quakes weren't particularly strong — 5.6 on the Richter scale, according to Reuters — nor did they hit the nation's most densely populated area, but still they were hugely destructive, killing 50 people, injuring 700, and damaging 20,000 homes. The quakes struck 45 minutes apart, starting at 11:19 a.m. local time. And quakes about that size happen all the time, according to the United States Geological Survey. What made a big difference were that these ones were shallow, which Christian Science Monitor points out amplifies the shaking on the surface. Reuters described the location as a "remote mountainous region about 350 km (210 miles) from the Yunnan provincial capital Kunming." And still the pair of temblors affected almost three quarters of a million people. "All told, Xinhua said, 700,000 people had their lives disrupted by the quake," Christian Science Monitor reported, citing Xinhua.
The death toll from Friday's quake approaches the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California, which killed 63 people and is considered one of the worst earthquake disasters in recent U.S. history. But it comes nowhere near China's worst recent quakes. The 2008 quake in Sichuan province killed 70,000 people and left another 18,000 missing, and the 2010 Yushu quake, which also hit a remote region, killed more than 2,000, according to Xinhua. Friday's quake wasn't anywhere near as severe as those, but it still serves as a sobering reminder of the effects these disasters can have on China.