Thousands of people are believed to have died in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck southwestern China on Monday, according to Chinese authorities.
State media reported that in oneChinese county alone, up to 5,000 people had been killed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that 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 Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand.
An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed in Beichuan county of the mountainous Sichuan province after the quake struck in the early afternoon. The county is about 100 miles from the provincial capital, Chengdu. As many as 10,000 people are believed to have been injured and hundreds of children remain trapped in at least eight collapsed schools.
The death toll is expected to rise sharply as rescue workers get through to the worst-hit areas of Sichuan.
The quake trapped nearly 900 students in the rubble of a three-story school building in the Sichuan city of Dujiangyan. Locals were helping students out of the ruins and cranes were excavating at the site, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.
The disaster comes less than three months before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics, which China wants to use to showcase its development to the world.
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.
Xinhua said an underground water pipe ruptured near Chengdu's southern railway station, flooding a main thoroughfare. Reporters saw buildings with cracks in their walls but no collapses, Xinhua said. At least 45 people have died in Chengdu, a city of 10 million, and 600 have been injured, Xinhua reported, citing an official with the local seismological office.
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.
Many Beijing office towers were evacuated, including the building housing the media offices for the organizers of the Olympics, which start in August.
"I've lived in Taipei and California and I've been through quakes before. This is the most I've ever felt," said James McGregor, a business consultant who was inside the LG Towers in Beijing's business district. "The floor was moving underneath me."
In Shanghai, skyscrapers swayed and most office occupants went rushing into the streets.
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.
China's deadliest earthquake in modern history struck the northeastern city of Tangshan on July 28, 1976, killing 240,000 people.