Chongqing, China: A massive earthquake struck central China on Monday, killing more than 9,000 people and trapping nearly 900 students under the rubble of their school, raising fears the overall death toll could increase sharply.
In Beichuan county, just east of the epicentre, 80% of the buildings had collapsed and some 10,000 people were injured aside from the 3,000-5,000 dead, the official ‘Xinhua News Agency’ said. The agency cited the Sichuan provincial government as saying 8,533 people died across the province, but the situation in at least two counties remain unclear.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the middle of the afternoon— when classrooms and office towers were full—92km north-west of Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu.
Residents search for their belongings in the debris of a house after Monday’s earthquake in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province
The quake emptied office buildings across the country in Beijing, could be felt as far away as Vietnam, crashed telephone networks and hours later left parts of Chengdu, a city of 10 million, in darkness.
Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Chengdu just before sunset to oversee rescue work. “The Communist Party central committee and the state council (cabinet) have asked officials at all levels to be at the front line of fighting the earthquake and lead the people in their rescue work,” he said.
Thousands of soldiers and police have been dispatched to the epicentre in Wenchuan county, about 100km from Beichuan.
In another area close to the epicentre, workers were struggling to dig out an estimated 900 students trapped when the Juyuan Middle School building collapsed. Photographs showed heavy cranes trying to move rubble from the ruined structure.
The earthquake comes fewer than three months before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics, which China hopes to use to showcase its rise in the world.