A massive earthquake in central China yesterday killed at least 7,000 people in Sichuan Province, with the overall death toll expected to increase sharply.
Xinhua news agency said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan County and that another 10,000 people were believed hurt there.
The epicenter was in Sichuan, striking 92km northwest of the provincial capital of Chengdu. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit in the middle of the afternoon — when classes and offices were full.
Thousands of soldiers and police have already been dispatched to the epicenter in Wenchuan County, about 100km away from Beichuan, which has a population of 160,000.
In another area close to the epicenter, workers were struggling to dig out an estimated 900 middle school students trapped when the Juyuan Middle School building collapsed. Photographs showed heavy cranes trying to move rubble from the ruined structure.
It said four of the students were confirmed dead, but did not say how many of others were feared dead.
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.
Xinhua said its reporters in Juyuan Township about 100km from the epicenter in Wenchuan saw buried teenagers struggling to break loose from underneath the rubble of the three-story school “while others were crying out for help.”
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 small mechanical winches or their hands to move concrete slabs.
Another photo from Wenchuan showed what appeared to have been a six-story building flattened, ripped away from taller buildings of gray concrete.
Xinhua quoted the Ministry of Civil Affairs as saying the 107 dead had been killed in Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces and in the municipality of Chongqing. It said many had died in collapsed buildings, but did not give details.
More than 5,000 soldiers and police have been rushed into Sichuan to help with the disaster relief.
The airport in Sichuan’s provincial capital, Chengdu, was closed and roads were clogged with traffic after the earthquake, state television reported.
Rain was also predicted for the disaster area.
The quake of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake at 2:28pm, the US Geological Survey said on its Web site. It was centered about 10km below the surface. A series of smaller aftershocks followed.
Calls into the city did not go through as panicked residents quickly overloaded the telephone system.
“In Chengdu, mobile telecommunication switches have experienced jams and thousands of servers were out of service,” said Sha Yuejia (沙躍家), 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,” it said.
Xinhua said an underground water pipe ruptured near the city’s southern railway station, flooding a main thoroughfare. Reporters saw buildings with cracks in their walls, but no collapses, Xinhua said.