Massive quake hits China

May 12, 2008 6:45:32 AM PDT
A powerful earthquake buried 900 students in central China on Monday and killed at least 107 people, as several schools and a water tower collapsed in the tremor, state media reported.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck central China, but 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.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported 107 people had died and 34 people were injured. Four children died when two elementary schools in Chongqing municipality collapsed. One person was killed when the quake toppled a water tower in neighboring Sichuan province where the earthquake was centered, Xinhua said.

Xinhua did not give any other details on the 900 buried students or say if any of the students were thought to be alive.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was headed to the epicenter and troops with China's People's Liberation Army were being dispatched to help with disaster relief, Xinhua reported.

The quake struck about 60 miles northwest of Chengdu at 2:28 p.m. and there were several smaller aftershocks, the /*U.S. Geological Survey/* said on its Web site.

Calls into the city did not go through as panicked residents quickly overloaded the telephone system. The quake affected telephone and power networks, and even state media appeared to have few details of the disaster.

"In Chengdu, mobile telecommunication convertors have experienced jams and thousands of servers were out of service," said Sha Yuejia, 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," he 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.

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."of the Buckingham Palace Hotel swayed. "We've never felt anything like this our whole lives," said a hotel employee surnamed Zhu.

Patients at the Fuyang People's No. 1 Hospital were evacuated. An hour after the quake, a half-dozen patients in blue-striped pajamas stood outside the hospital. One was laying on a hospital bed in the parking lot.

Closer to the epicenter in Chongqing, Lai Dequn was napping while her mother watched TV on the 19th floor of a hotel.

"I suddenly felt the bed shaking and then realized it must be an earthquake," said the 42-year-old Lai. "So I just put on slippers and helped my mother down to the ground floor."

In Shanghai, skyscrapers swayed and most office occupants went rushing into the streets.

The airport in the provincial capital, Chengdu, was closed and roads were clogged with traffic after the earthquake, state television reported.

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

The quake was felt as far away as the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, where some people hurried out of swaying office buildings and into the streets downtown. A building in the Thai capital of Bangkok also was evacuated after the quake was felt there.

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 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.