Strong Earthquake Rattles Western China
Map of earthquake location today (Feb. 12, 2014) in Western China.
Credit: USGS.

An earthquake of preliminary magnitude 6.9 struck today in southwestern China, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The temblor's epicenter was 167 miles (268 km) east-southeast of Hotan, China, and 306 miles (493 km) east-northeast of Leh, India. It originated 6.2 miles (10 km) deep and struck at 5:19 p.m. Wednesday local time (0919 UTC), the USGS reports.

The area around the center of the earthquake is sparsely populated. There were some reports of damage to houses, but no immediate reports of casualties, according to the Associated Press.

Earthquakes of this size are considered major and can cause significant damage, especially with poorly built structures. Even well designed buildings can be damaged or, in some cases, destroyed depending on the severity of the quake and a building’s proximity to the epicenter. Earthquakes of this size are sometimes followed by significant aftershocks.

But the damage caused by any single event depends on the quake's depth, proximity to populated areas, building standards in the region, 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.