Massive Quake Rattles China, Nearly 9,000 Dead

Christopher Bodeen in Beijing
Associated Press
May 12, 2008
A massive earthquake struck central China on Monday, killing nearly 9,000. At least 8,533 people died in Sichuan Province alone, and nearly 900 students were trapped under the rubble of their school, state media reported.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan County in Sichuan Province after the magnitude 7.8 quake.

Xinhua also reported that 3,000 to 5,000 people died in Beichuan—which has a population of 160,000—raising fears that the overall death toll could increase sharply.

Another 10,000 people were believed to be hurt.

Crying for Help

Rescuers had recovered at least 50 bodies from the debris of the school building in Juyuan township, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the epicenter. Xinhua did not say if any students had been pulled out alive.

An unknown number of students also were reported buried after buildings collapsed at five other schools in Deyang in Sichuan, Xinhua reported.

It said its reporters saw buried teenagers struggling to break loose from underneath the rubble of the three-story building in Juyuan "while others were crying out for help."

Two girls were quoted by Xinhua as saying they escaped because they had "run faster than others."

The earthquake also 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.

(See photos of destruction from past earthquakes.)

No Olympic Damage

The earthquake comes less than three months before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics, when China hopes to use to showcase its rise in the world.

The earthquake also rattled buildings in Beijing, some 930 miles (1,497 kilometers) to the north.

Many Beijing office towers were evacuated, including the building housing the media offices for the organizers of the Olympics. None of the Olympic venues was damaged.

(See photos of the newly built Olympic stadiums.)

"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 the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, 100 miles (161 kilometers) off the southeastern Chinese coast, buildings swayed when the quake hit. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake is considered a major event, capable of causing widespread damage and injuries in populated areas.

The last serious earthquake in China was in 2003, when a magnitude 6.8 quake killed 268 people in Bachu County, west of Xinjiang.

China's deadliest earthquake in modern history struck the northeastern city of Tangshan on July 28, 1976, killing 240,000 people.

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