China Quake Kills Thousands, Students Buried

BEIJING, China, May 12, 2008 (ENS) – A massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 shook Wenchuan County in southwest China’s Sichuan Province at 2:28 pm Monday, said the State Seismological Bureau. More than 300 aftershocks were registered after the quake, which rocked skyscrapers in Shanghai, hundreds of miles away. The shocks were reported as far away as Thailand and Vietnam.

At least 8,533 people had died as a result of the earthquake by 10 pm Monday and thousands more are injured, said officials in Sichuan. In Beichuan, another county hit by the quake, the number of people dead is estimated at 5,000, and up to 10,000 people are injured.

With a population of 111,800, the mountainous county of Wenchuan lies in the southeast part of the Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba, 146 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan.

Premier Wen Jiabao, center, and other
government officials on the plane
to Chengdu to manage disaster
relief. (Photo courtesy Xinhua)

Premier Wen Jiabao flew into an airport on the outskirts of Chengdu today to manage the relief effort. “I will be in charge of relief work headquarters that has been set up with eight departments covering rescue work, earthquake forecasting and monitoring and other aspects,” Wen told the state news agency Xinhua.

President Hu Jintao ordered all-out efforts to help those affected by the disaster.

The national Health Ministry sent 10 emergency medical teams and the Sichuan health bureau sent 40 medical specialists to Wenchuan county. Jiang Jufeng, governor of Sichuan Province, has ordered two military helicopters to go to Wenchuan to assist the relief work. The Red Cross Society of China has sent 557 tents and 2,500 quilts valued at 788,000 yuan (US$113,000) to Wenchuan County.

Casualty figures are expected to rise as search and rescue teams and disaster relief teams reach the stricken area.

Disaster relief teams are stuck in the city of Dujiangyan, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from Wenchuan, as the only roads linking the epicenter, and Chengdu are blocked by huge piles of rock that fell during the earthquake, said Li Qianghua, director with the China Earthquake Networks Center.

Some 900 students in the Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan City were buried after a building collapsed. Rescuers recovered at least 50 bodies as distraught parents watched. Eight excavators and five cranes were brought in for rescue work.

An unknown number of students were also reported buried after buildings collapsed at five other schools in the Sichuan province’s Deyang City, where a quake with a magnitude of 5.4 happened at 4:21 pm Monday, according to the Sichuan provincial seismological bureau.

Rescuers try to save wounded students at Juyuan
Middle School in Juyuan Township of
Dujiangyan City. (Photo courtesy Xinhua)

Dozens of flights at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport and trains departing from Chengdu have been cancelled. According to the Ministry of Railways, 31 passenger trains and 149 cargo trains have been stopped en route due to the destruction of railway bridges caused by the quake.

The earthquake struck the Wolong Nature Reserve in Wenchuan, China’s most important research and breeding base for endangered giant pandas. Damage to the facility and its 130 pandas is not yet known.

The Chengdu Military Area Command has dispatched troops to help with disaster relief work in the earthquake-stricken area, military sources said.

Tian Yixiang, officer with the emergency office of the People’s Liberation Army, said the troops will assist local government in Wenchuan county to gauge the current situation and to help with disaster relief work.

Zhang Hongwei, spokesman of the China Seismologicial Bureau, told Xinhua at 9:30 pm Monday that the Wenchuan earthquake has affected more than half of the country’s provinces and municipalities nationwide.

More than 300 aftershocks were registered after the quake. Tremors were reported in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing Municipalities, Ningxia, Qinghai, Gansu, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Yunnan, Guizhou, Henan and Jiangsu provinces, and Tibet Autonomous Region, Zhang said.

A seismologist warned of more devastating tremors to come. “A big earthquake could release most, but not all of the underground energy, and the following tremors may also cause big natural disasters,” said Zhang Guomin, a research fellow with the China Seismological Bureau.

The quake is the worst to strike China since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, which claimed 242,000 lives.

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