Tuesday, May 13, 2008

China quake leaves 8,533 dead in one province: Xinhua

BEIJING - A POWERFUL earthquake killed an estimated 8,533 people in just one county of south-western China's Sichuan province on Monday, Xinhua news agency said.

The estimated death toll in Sichuan's Beichuan county was at 8,533, with 10,000 believed injured in the 7.8-magnitude quake, it said, citing the Sichuan provincial disaster relief headquarters.

Xinhua said 80 per cent of the buildings in the county were toppled by the quake.

Prior to the estimated toll from Beichuan, official media reports said 107 people had been confirmed dead in the quake.

The quake was felt in cities across a swathe of Southeast Asia including the Thai capital Bangkok, more than 1,800km from the epicentre in Sichuan province.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called it a 'major disaster' and urged calm.

Chinese students help a fainted classmate evacuate to a playground for safety in Qionglai city, Sichuan province.

Xinhua news agency also reported that up to 900 students were feared buried when a high school collapsed in Dujiangyan, which has a population of some 600,000.

At least four children were confirmed dead there, Xinhua said, and quoted a local official saying 'rows of houses', and a hospital had also been demolished.

Another four children died and more than 100 were injured when two primary schools crumbled in the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing.

'Facing disaster the most important thing is calm, confidence, courage and strong leadership,' Mr Wen told China's CCTV television on a flight to the heart of the quake-hit zone.

'We will definitely overcome this major disaster'.

President Hu Jintao urged an 'all-out' effort to rescue victims. Military troops were ordered to help with the disaster relief work.

The quake struck 93km from Chengdu, a city of more than 12 million people, and some 260km from Chongqing and its 30 million.

The State Seismological Bureau located its epicenter in Wenchuan County, a mountainous region home to the Wolong Nature Reserve, China's leading research and breeding base for endangered giant pandas.

Xinhua quoted an official saying the landmark Three Gorges Dam in Sichuan province had not been affected.

However, buildings shook in Beijing and Shanghai, residents reported, with many people evacuating tower blocks and rushing onto the street. There were no immediate reports of damage there.

Tremors were also felt in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Hanoi and Taipei, residents there said.

Both the Chinese seismological bureau and the US Geological Survey (USGS), which use different scales, measured it at 7.8.

The quake struck shortly before 2.30pm (0630 GMT), according to the USGS, at a depth of just 10km.

A series of aftershocks continued to rock the region, including one of 5.8 felt near Chengdu, according to the USGS.

Transport, communications in chaos
Transport and communication networks around China were thrown into chaos.

All trains to and from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, were ordered to stop, the Chengdu Business Newspaper reported. Xinhua said the city's airport was also shut down while engineers assessed the runways.

The communication network went down in Sichuan and other areas, including Beijing's mobile phone system - about 1,500km from the epicenter - where tremors were felt.

Local communications were also damaged by the earthquake, which cut off fixed line phone services in four counties in Sichuan, and five counties in neighbouring Gansu province, according to Xinhua.

Key websites on the Internet, including the one belonging to China's Earthquake Department, were inaccessible.

Relatives tried to contact their loved ones in affected areas but often could not get through.

Flights disrupted
Air China announced that all its flights to Chengdu had been diverted to other airports, Xinhua reported, and there were delays reported on planes travelling to neighbouring Chongqing, and Xian in the north.

Singapore Airlines unit SilkAir also said it diverted a flight headed for Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, after its pilots were told that the Chengdu airport was shut following an earthquake.

The plane, which was to have reached Chengdu at 3.30 pm Singapore time has landed at Kunming in the neighbouring Yunnan province, a spokesman from SilkAir said.

Ten flights in and out of Hong Kong were also delayed or cancelled, with one flight from Paris being diverted to Beijing, officials said.

Three departures from Hong Kong to Chengdu were cancelled while one flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong was also scrapped, a Hong Kong Airport Authority spokeswoman said.

'Ten flights were either delayed or cancelled because of the earthquake,' the spokeswoman said. The six other flights faced delays, she added.

Long-haul flights between Hong Kong and London were also disrupted by the quake, the Airport Authority spokeswoman added.

The last powerful quake to hit China was on March 21, a 7.2 magnitude quake which struck near the north-western city of Hotan in Xinjiang province. -- REUTERS, AFP

Read also Olympics: Games venues undamaged by quake: organisers

*extracted from straitstimes.com


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