Deadly Earthquakes Strike Southwestern China
Map of earthquake location today (Sept. 7, 2012) near southwestern China.
Credit: USGS.

A deadly series of earthquakes, with preliminary magnitudes ranging from 4.8 to 5.6, struck today in southwestern China, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The first temblor was 5.6 in magnitude and its epicenter was 7 miles (12 km) southwest of Jiaokui, China, and 18 miles (29 km) northeast of Zhaotong, China. It originated 6.2 miles (9.9 km) deep and struck at 11:19 a.m. local time (3:19 UTC), the USGS reports. In the following two hours, the same area was hit by three more shocks — 4.9, 5.6 and 4.8 in magnitude, USGS data showed.

At least 50 people were killed and dozens more injured, mostly in the mountainous Yiliang County, according to news reports. Images from China's Xinhua News Agency showed crushed cars, collapsed buildings, crumbling hillsides and victims on stretchers in the hard-hit city of Luozehe Town.

Earthquakes of this size can cause significant damage in areas with outdated building standards. The damage caused by any single event depends on the quake's depth, proximity to populated areas, as well as the type of earthquake. The USGS frequently updates the magnitude of an event after more data is analyzed.

An earthquake's magnitude is a measure of the energy released at the source. It is just one predictor of the shaking that may ensue, which is affected by local and regional geology. Scientists know in a general sense what causes Earthquakes but are unable to predict specific quakes.

This article will be updated if significant additional information becomes available. Find more earthquake news here.