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Sichuan Quake Death Toll Rises to Nearly 10,000

The death toll from Monday's earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan Province has climbed to nearly 10,000, according to the headquarters for disaster relief.

The figure climbed from more than 8,500 provided earlier Monday night by local authorities.

The Sichuan provincial seismological bureau said more than 1,180 tremors up to six magnitude have been recorded as of 5:00 AM on Tuesday.

Government in Shifang City of Deyang City, where a major chemical leak happened after the quake, said about 600 people died, including 81 students. As many as 2,300 people are still buried, in which 920 are students.

In Anxian County of Mianyang City, about 500 people died, and 85 percent of the houses in rural areas collapsed.

Dozens of military vehicles are heading to Beichuan County, where officials said about 80 percent of the buildings collapsed.

Escaped villagers said the old town of Beichuan was tightly covered by giant swaths of debris slides, and the new town also suffered grave damages, particularly kindergartens, primary and middle schools, and vocational schools.

The rescuers were stranded about 10 kilometers from the county.

Rocks slid down the mountains and piled upon boulders the size of a house which already jammed up the road sections.

Local villagers said the rocks came down in scary roaring noises when the quake occurred. They warned that it was very dangerous to move ahead, as the rock slides could push the vehicles down the hill and straight into a river that runs in the valley.

Xiang'e middle school, Dujiangyan: hundreds of students buried

More students have been found buried at a school in Dujiangyan City, one of the worst-hit cities in Sichuan, as rescue operations continue.

Officials in the Xiang'e Township middle school in Dujiangyan, about 100 km from epicenter Wenchuan, said fewer than 100 students out of 420 students survived after a powerful quake brought down a major teaching building in the school.

Towards dawn, rescuers were disassembling the debris to recover the bodies of students stuck in misshaped cement structures. Blood stains were seen at some of the distorted steel bars from the building.

The fresh reports added to an earlier account that 900 students were feared buried in building wreckages in the Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan Township in Dujiangyan.

As of 3 AM on Tuesday, rescuers had recovered more than 60 bodies.

More than 1,000 people, including armed policemen, were rescuing the buried victims. Eight excavators and five cranes were brought in for rescue work and an ambulance waited.

The 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck Sichuan at 2:28 PM on Monday, has left more than 8,500 people dead in Sichuan. Severe casualties were also reported in neighboring provinces.

The Chinese government launched emergency rescue operations in the quake-jolted zones. Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Chengdu on Monday afternoon and is in Dujiangyan to direct the rescue work.

China's Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Finance have allocated 200 million yuan (about US$28.6 million) for disaster relief work. Medical workers and troops have been sent in to reinforce search and rescue operations.

Isolated epicenter Wenchuan appeals for emergency aid

An official of Wenchuan County, the epicenter of a strong earthquake that struck southwest China Monday, appealed for emergency aid via a satellite phone early Tuesday, almost 11 hours after the county was cut off from the outside world.

"We are in urgent need of tents, food, medicine and satellite communications equipment through air drop. We also need medical workers to save the injured people here," said Wang Bin, Communist Party secretary of Wenchuan County, Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba, Sichuan Province.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Wenchuan at 2:28 PM Monday. A number of aftershocks have been recorded.

Rescuers are yet to reach Wenchuan, 159 km northwest of the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, because all roads leading to the county have been destroyed by landslides and telecommunication links have also been cut.

At about 1:15 AM on Tuesday, He Biao, deputy secretary-general of the Aba prefectural government finally reached Wang Bin via a satellite phone, according to a statement posted on the website of the prefectural government.

"Wang Bin said between sobs that most of farmers' houses had collapsed in two townships, and most of the houses in the county seat are in danger," the statement said. "More than 30,000 residents stay outdoors in the county seat and dare not go home."

Latest figures show that at least 15 people were killed in Wenchuan, and 307 others injured, 36 severely, according to the statement.

"(But) there is still no news about the situation in the townships of Yingxiu, Wolong and Xuankou, which are located exactly at the epicenter," it said.

The three townships have a total population of more than 24,000, it said.

Wenchuan administers 13 townships and has a total population of 105,436. The county seat lies at the Weizhou Township.

The Aba prefecture has pledged to restore the damaged roads and communication networks soon "by every possible means", according to a separate statement posted on its official website.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who is in the City of Dujiangyan, about 100 km from the epicenter, has asked relief military personnel waiting in the city to enter the area as soon as possible even if they have to walk to Wenchuan.

"Road access to Wenchuan County, which is key to our disaster relief work, must be made at all cost. Water and power supplies and telecommunication in quake-hit areas should be restored as soon as possible," the premier demanded.

Li Chongxi, deputy secretary of Sichuan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, led a rescue team to Wenchuan, but was stranded at Dujiangyan City.

"We are doing everything we can, but the roads are blanketed with rocks and boulders," Li said.

Altogether 59 people have been killed in the quake in the Aba prefecture, and 680 others injured, 67 severely, the statement said.

In Sichuan, more than 8,500 people were feared dead.

The powerful tremor was also strongly felt in many other parts of the country, including Beijing, Shanghai and Tibet.

In regions neighboring Sichuan, 85 were killed in Shaanxi Province, 48 in Gansu Province, 50 in Chongqing Municipality, one in Yunnan Province and one in Henan Province.

The quake was the worst to strike China since the Tangshan earthquake in north China's Hebei Province in 1976, which claimed 242,000 lives.

Juyuan Middle School: 900 students buried, over 60 confirmed dead

As of 3:00 AM. on Tuesday, rescuers had recovered more than 60 bodies from the debris of a high school building that collapsed and buried almost 900 students in Monday's earthquake in southwest China.

The tragedy occurred at around 2:30 PM at Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan Township of Dujiangyan City, Sichuan Province, about 100 kilometers from the epicenter in Wenchuan County.

Teachers and students of 24 classes were having classes then and most of them were buried in ruins, a teacher who only gave her surname as Cai told Xinhua.

Cai said the collapsed six-story building is home to the classrooms of the 8th- and 9th-graders.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who arrived in the provincial capital Chengdu by plane on Monday evening, visited the school site on Monday night.

Wen told the devastated parents, who were waiting for the news on their children in rain that the government would never give up rescue effort so long as there was hope for the trapped to survive.

"More than 1,000 people are participating rescue operation at the site now, and later, another 1,400 professional rescuers will arrive for help," said Wen.

"Some of the trapped still have chance to survive and we will go all out to rescue them," he said.

Rescuers told Xinhua they could still hear some buried students calling for help. Eight excavators and five cranes were brought in for rescue work and an ambulance waited.

"Dozens of rescued students have been sent to hospital," said a rescuer.

The collapse site was isolated by security line. On a black board erected at the school playground wrote the 28 names of the identified victims. Some 20 students, lowering their head in tears, stood quietly hand in hand nearby.

"We want to hold a vigil for the schoolmates passed away," said a student who declined to give his name.

A tearful mother said her son, 9th-grader Zhang Chengwei, was buried in the ruins.

Two girls said they escaped because they had "run faster than others".

"It was around 2:30 PM, and the building suddenly began to rock back and forth," one of them said.

"We ran out of the house when the quake hit," said Gao Shangyuan, a villager who lives close to the school and helped with the rescue work.

Gao and other villagers helped dozens of students out of the ruins. "Some had jumped out of the window and a few others ran down the stairs that did not collapse."

In addition, an unknown number of students were also reported buried after buildings collapsed at five other schools in the province's Deyang City, where a quake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale occurred at 2:21 PM on Monday, according to the Sichuan provincial seismological bureau.

Local government officials are assessing the situation and rescuers are searching for the trapped students.

Deyang is about 58 kilometers from the provincial capital of Chengdu. Communications and the electricity supply in the quake-affected areas were cut after the quake.

Sichuan provincial education authorities have required schools and kindergartens in the quake-hit areas to close from Tuesday till further notice.

The quake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and was felt in much part of the country, has killed more than 8,700 nationwide by Monday night.

Quake-hit city in dire need of food, water and tents

Residents of Mianzhu, one of the worst-hit cities in Monday's quakes in southwest China, were in dire need of food, drinking water and tents.

Xinhua reporters arrived at the Mianzhu at 2:50 AM on Tuesday. The city, less than 70 kilometers away from the quake epicenter of Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, was shrouded in darkness as its electricity supply was cut after the quake.

Mianzhu had been hit by a minor quake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, before being affected in a stronger 7.8-magnitude quake which stroke Wenchuan at 2:28 PM on Monday, according to the Sichuan provincial seismological bureau.

Xinhua reporters saw many buildings collapsed along the streets. Some residents spent their nights huddling in cars, but many more gathered in streets and squares despite drizzles.

At the Wenhua Square in downtown city, some people were staying in simple shelters roofed with plastic cloths or beach umbrellas, and some were standing in rain holding umbrellas.

Many said that they had had nothing after lunch and it was hard to get drinking water now.

"We need help. We need food, water and tents," said a man who only gave his surname Feng. "We hope the government can send us food and water as soon as possible and help us to deal with the dead and the injured."

The number of the casualties in Mianzhu is not yet available, although some residents said they had witnessed hundreds of bodies piled in a square. The provincial death toll was over 8,500, local authorities said.

Xinhua reporters are also on their way to Beichuan, in which officials said 80 percent of the houses collapsed, and the estimated death toll was above 3,000.

Villagers, cars buried by debris, whole town leveled in quake

Violent shakes have leveled a remote town, and people and cars have been buried by debris after a major earthquake rocked Sichuan Province in southwest China on Monday, according to eyewitnesses.

A man who works in Chengdu told Xinhua that his hometown in Shazhou Township in the northern border of Sichuan was almost flattened. He had spoken to his father, who is in Shazhou, over the phone.

"We were passing by the Jushui town, and we saw a huge landslide," a man from Mianzhu City, about 60 kilometers to quake center Wenchuan, told Xinhua over the phone. He was on his way to visit a friend in Anxian County in the northeast Monday afternoon.

"Rocks buried many houses down at the foot of the hill, and some of the vehicles on the road were buried too. I saw the rear of a car and the wheels of another. Several people were crying for help and some were bleeding," he said.

A nurse at the forestry center in the Aba prefecture asked reporters to take photos of a boy with scratches on his face to help find his relatives. The nurse said his parents were suspected to have died in the quake.

The quake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck Sichuan, including the capital Chengdu, around 2:30 PM on Monday. The epicenter of the quake was in Wenchuan, about 159 kilometers northwest of Chengdu.

"Wenchuan is located at a major fault line. This was really big-scale fracture, and the destruction was grave," said Che Shi, an official with the China Seismological Bureau.

Local authorities said the quakes have left more than 8,500 people dead in Sichuan alone. Water, electricity and transportation were seriously affected in the province. The massive quake is believed to be the deadliest quake to strike China since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, which claimed 242,000 lives.

By Monday midnight, at least 24,000 troops have arrived by air in the quake-hit zones for rescue operations, and another 10,000 were on the way by rails.

In Dujiangyan City, about 100 kilometers from Wenchuan, some of the residential buildings seemed to have been axed, and refrigerators, television sets and other furniture were left rumbled in the debris.

In Shiyou Road in Dujiangyan, Xinhua reporters saw on Monday afternoon at least four buildings flattened, and people were digging frantically into the wreckages. At least 50 schoolchildren were confirmed dead at a school in the city.

Deep into the night, many residents in Chengdu spent the nights in streets, and cars queue at some of the petrol stations, as people fear shortage of petrol.

Rail traffic has been partially resumed and jammed or disrupted mobile communications were returning to normal.

The Sichuan Provincial health department has sent 24 medical teams to Wenchuan, Mianzhu and Shifang, worse hit than capital Chengdu. More than 100 helicopters were sent to Mianyang, Deyang and Dujiangyan to transport the injured.

The Ministry of Health, the neighboring municipality Chongqing and the army have also dispatched medical workers to Sichuan.

Major earthquakes not likely hit China in near future

Major earthquakes will not likely hit China again in near future, the China Seismological Bureau (CSB) said here on Monday.

Experts with the CSB concluded late on Monday night that apart from the regions near the epicenter of Monday's earthquake, which is located 31.0 degrees north latitude and 103.4 degrees east longitude, the rest of Sichuan Province and the country is not likely to be hit again soon.

The CSB has strengthened earthquake monitoring, the bureau said.

Monday's quake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale jolted Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province at 2:28 p.m., resulting in more than 8,500 deaths reported so far.

Tremors were also reported in over half of China's provinces and municipalities, the China Seismological Bureau said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 13, 2008)

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