CHONGQING, China - One of the worst earthquakes in decades struck central
China on Monday, killing nearly 9,000 people, trapping about 900 students under
the rubble of their school and causing a toxic chemical leak, state media
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated a hilly region of small cities and towns
in Sichuan and nearby provinces. The official Xinhua News Agency said 8,533
people died in Sichuan alone and dozens of other deaths were reported in
Xinhua said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan county in
Sichuan province after the quake, raising fears the overall death toll could
State media said a chemical plant in Shifang city had cratered, burying hundreds
of people and spilling more than 80 tons of toxic liquid ammonia from the site.
The earthquake sent thousands of people rushing out of buildings and into the
streets hundreds of miles away in Beijing and Shanghai. The temblor was felt as
far away as Vietnam and Thailand.
The quake posed a challenge to a government already grappling with discontent
over high inflation and a widespread uprising among Tibetans in western China
while trying to prepare for the Beijing Olympics this August.
It hit about 60 miles northwest of Chengdu in the middle of the afternoon when
classrooms and office towers were full. There were several smaller aftershocks,
the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site.
The temblor struck hilly country leading up to the Tibetan highlands, toppling
buildings in small cities and towns in the largely rural area. About 1,200
pandas — 80 percent of the surviving wild population in China — live in several
mountainous areas of Sichuan.
The earthquake, Chinas deadliest since 1976, occurred in an area with numerous
fault lines that have triggered destructive temblor before. A magnitude 7.5
earthquake in Diexi, Sichuan that hit on August 25, 1933 killed more than 9,300
Xinhua said 50 bodies had been pulled from the debris of the school building in
Juyuan town but did not say if the children were alive. Xinhua reported students
also were buried under five other toppled schools in Deyang city.
Xinhua said its reporters saw buried teenagers struggling to break loose from
underneath the rubble of the three-story building in Juyuan "while others were
crying out for help."
Two girls were quoted by Xinhua as saying they escaped because they had "run
faster than others."
Photos showed heavy cranes trying to remove rubble from the ruined school. Other
photos posted on the Internet and found on the Chinese search engine Baidu
showed arms and a torso sticking out of the rubble of the school as dozens of
people worked to free them, using their hands to move concrete slabs.
Calls into the city did not go through as panicked residents quickly overloaded
the telephone system. The quake affected telephone and power networks, and even
state media appeared to have few details of the disaster.
"In Chengdu, mobile telecommunication convertors have experienced jams and
thousands of servers were out of service," said Sha Yuejia, deputy chief
executive officer of China Mobile.
Although it was difficult to telephone Chengdu, an Israeli student, Ronen
Medzini, sent a text message to The Associated Press saying there were power and
water outages there.
"Traffic jams, no running water, power outs, everyone sitting in the streets,
patients evacuated from hospitals sitting outside and waiting," he said.
The road to Wenchuan from Chendu was cut off by landslides, state media said,
slowing the rescue efforts.
The earthquake also rattled buildings in Beijing, some 930 miles to the north,
less than three months before the Chinese capital was expected to be full of
hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors for the Summer Olympics.
Li Jiulin, a top engineer on the 91,000-seat National Stadium — known as the
Birds Nest and the jewel of the Olympics — was conducting an inspection at the
venue when the quake occurred. He told reporters the building was designed to
withstand a 8.0 quake.
"The Olympic venues were not affected by the earthquake," said Sun Weide, a
spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee. "We considered earthquakes when
Skyscrapers swayed in Shanghai and in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, 100 miles
off the southeastern Chinese coast. There were no immediate reports of injuries
The quake was felt as far away as the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, where some
people hurried out of swaying office buildings and into the streets downtown. A
building in the Thai capital of Bangkok also was evacuated after the quake was
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake is considered a major event, capable of causing
widespread damage and injuries in populated areas.
The last serious earthquake in China was in 2003, when a 6.8-magnitude quake
killed 268 people in Bachu county in the west of Xinjiang.
Chinas deadliest earthquake in modern history struck the northeastern city of
Tangshan on July 28, 1976, killing 240,000 people.
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