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Rescuers dig for thousands buried in China quake as death toll nears 12,000

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A Chinese disaster relief official said Tuesday that the death toll has risen to nearly 12,000 following a massive earthquake that struck the country.

Disaster Response Director Wang Zhengyao said at a news conference that 11,921 people had died so far from the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that was centered in Sichuan province.

The death toll from Monday's quake is expected to rise even higher, with state media saying thousands are still trapped in collapsed buildings.

Rescue workers dug through schools and homes turned into rubble by China's worst earthquake in three decades to reach thousands of victims trapped beneath slabs of concrete.

A day after the powerful 7.9 magnitude quake struck, state media said rescue workers had only just reached the epicenter in Wenchuan county — cut off by the disaster and where the number of casualties was unknown.

But the official Xinhua News Agency reported 10,000 people "remained buried" in Mianzhu, 108 kilometers from the epicenter.

Heavy rain, which had contributed to the difficulty of reaching the epicenter, continued to impede efforts and a group of paratroopers called off a mission to the area, Xinhua said.

The tremors caused a wide swath of damage across central China, leveling buildings and severing roads and communications. It sent people rushing out of their offices across the country in Beijing, and was felt as far away as Vietnam.

Nearly 10,000 people died in Sichuan province alone and 300 others in other provinces and the mega-city of Chongqing, Xinhua reported.

A 40-car freight train with 13 gasoline tankers derailed in the quake and was still burning Tuesday, the agency said, with no word on casualties.

Just east of the epicenter, 1,000 students and teachers were killed or missing at a collapsed high school in Beichuan county. The six- or seven-story building was reduced to a pile of rubble about two yards high, according to Xinhua. Another 900 students were feared dead when their school collapsed in Juyuan, which is in Dujiangyan city.

The Beichuan school had more than 2,000 students and teachers in three school buildings. The other two buildings collapsed partially, Xinhua said.

Up to 5,000 people were killed and 80% of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan, Xinhua said, in a region of small cities and towns set amid steep hills north of Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu. The government has poured more than 16,000 troops into the area with tens of thousands more on the way.

In Dujiangyan, rescue teams were trying to get to a woman who was eight months pregnant and trapped in a seven-story apartment building that collapsed.

Nearby, a man in his late 50s who refused to give his name, said his father was missing in the rubble of his home. "Yesterday, when the earthquake happened our home collapsed really quickly and I heard my father yell, 'Help, help, help,'" the man said.

Buildings were knocked down on every block and corpses were laid out in the street. People were seeking rides out of town, where makeshift tent cities were being erected as shelter from rain that began Tuesday and could affect rescue efforts.

Zhou Chun, a 70-year-old retired mechanic, was fleeing toward the city of Chengdu with a soiled light blue blanket draped over his shoulders.

"My wife died in the quake. My house was destroyed," he said. "I am going to Chengdu, but I don't know where I'll live."

Zhou and other survivors were pulling luggage and clutching plastic bags of food amid a steady drizzle and the constant wall of ambulances.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who flew to the area to oversee rescue efforts, said a push was on to clear roads and restore electricity as soon as possible.

China's Ministry of Health issued an appeal for blood donations to help the victims of the quake. "There is a large demand for blood in quake-hit areas and we hope the public actively donate blood," spokesman Mao Quan said.

Before the rescue workers arrived, the only previous contact with hard-hit Wenchuan, Xinhua said, was a satellite phone call from the local Communist Party secretary to appeal for air drops of tents, food and medicine.

The official, Wang Bin, said there were 57 reported deaths so far, with more than 300 other people seriously injured. He said the figures were likely to rise as there was no information from mountainous areas.

He estimated that at least 30,000 of the county's 105,000 residents slept outside Monday night.

Fifteen missing British tourists were believed to be in that area at the time of the quake and were "out of reach," Xinhua reported.

They were likely visiting the Wolong Nature Reserve, home to more than 100 giant pandas, whose fate also was not known, Xinhua said. It reported that 60 pandas at another breeding center in Chengdu were safe.

Disasters pose a test to China's communist government, whose mandate rests heavily on maintaining order, delivering economic growth and providing relief in emergencies.

Pressure for a rapid response was particularly intense this year, as the government was already grappling with public discontent over high inflation and a widespread uprising among Tibetans in western China while trying to prepare for the Beijing Olympics this August.

Expressions of sympathy and offers of help poured in from the United States, Japan and the European Union, among others. Even rival Taiwan, which is frequently hit by quakes and has highly developed expertise in rescue operations, offered aid.

"I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy," President Bush said in a statement. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said no aid requests had been made by China.

The quake was China's deadliest since 1976, when 240,000 people were killed in the city of Tangshan, near Beijing in 1976.

The latest quake hit a fault where South Asia pushes against the Eurasian land mass, smashing the Sichuan plain into mountains leading to the Tibetan highlands — near communities that held sometimes violent protests against Chinese rule in mid-March.

© Copyright 2008/9 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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25 Comments
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Yeah, and 900 children burried under rubles... JT should subscribe to CNN...

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This is a disaster,900 souls just bang...gone.Just like that!Terrible.I extremely worry about the Three Gorge dam,it holds so much water and sits on unstable ground 24/7;if it breaks ,the damage it can cause may be immense."Thank" to CCP leadership,I hope they know what they are doing.

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I am truly sorry for the victims. I'm sure government of China can handle it well , unlike the Myanmar junta who blocks the international aid for 1.5 million victims of cyclone Nargis in Myanmar's delta.

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According to latest news from Xinhua News Agency, death toll is likely in the range of 3000 to 5000...and according to Asahi News there are nearly 300 japanese people in the affected area whose safety details are awaited. i am really sad for series of natural disasters like in Myanmar, USA and now in China.

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Reminds me of the early morning of 1.17.1995. I hope roads and railways are, at least in part, still functioning, and cell phone still working. As long as people stay there, they will suffer the shortage of food, water, doctors, and shelters. The lesson I learned from the Hanshin earthquake was that moving away from the devastated area ASAP.

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it seems 2008 has been having more earthquakes than normal. Prepare yourself Japan because a big one is coming.

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This is a lead story on the BBC and over 8,500 people dead. How come this is so low down this site?

And as for people like Triple888 making light of this he should be ashamed. I am sure that Tibetans (real ones that is) are thinking nothing of the sorts and will be offering up their prayers for the thousands of innocent lives lost.

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Very sad news. Lots of natural disasters these days.

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When it hit shortly before 2:30 p.m., the quake rumbled for nearly three minutes, witnesses said, driving people into the streets in panic.

3 minutes. Wow. The longest quake I have ever experienced was just a few seconds. I just cannot fathom how scary that must have been.

Best of luck to the people of China.

Taka

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I don't mean to sound heartless given the loss of life that is involved, but this humanitarian crisis will deflect attention away from an increasingly rancerous debate over China's system of governance and the upcoming Olympics.

Between the knee-jerk nationalism of the young Chinese patriots in defense of their motherland and the know-nothing commentary of that CNN guy who contributed to an orgy of mindless China bashing in the USA, it didn't bode well for the future. Bottom line: we're stuck with them and they are stuck with us and that is true for the forseeable future. This sort of tragedy should enable everyone to put aside the shrill partisan rhethoric and focus on aiding the victims.

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Well put Betzee, We all the same when our number is up. ALl debates where both sides are as bad as each other, do pale in significance when nature kicks us up the butt.

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tako10: I wasn't here then, but my brother was and he told me rescue people were having problems getting their search and rescue dogs into the country, which only a long delay, some of them actually found people but it was too late. I hope China doesn't make the same mistake. I can't believe people are even putting the Olympics in the same conversation.

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My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this horrible event. I hope the chinese government can handle this event better than their communist brothers in Burma

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You think thay will accept assistance from our local quake experts? Or from elsewhere overseas?

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Well,the response of CCP leadership to this earth quake disaster seems to me all normal,efficient,between good an excellent.I am only curious that why don't they tell their followers like those in Burma,Darfur or Mugabe to be good and responsible?

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I can't believe people are even putting the Olympics in the same conversation.

Agreed. In tragic times like these, there should be no political or diplomatic considerations, only concern for the citizens who are affected. Most victims of any natural disaster have nothing to do with any national circumstances, all they want is a bottle of water, maybe a cloth bandage, and shelter.

I wonder, is ICRC on this, or are they still held up with the Myanmar (Burma) hurricane aid situation?

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Was in the office on the 32F when the building started to shake in my city, near Shanghai. Managed to get the lift out of the building (yeah.., like thats a great idea - using the lift during a major seismic event). My Chinese collegues didn't budge in spite of my warnings about getting the hell out and asking 'whats happening?' later!!

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I don't mean to sound heartless given the loss of life that is involved, but this humanitarian crisis will deflect attention away from an increasingly rancerous debate over China's system of governance and the upcoming Olympics.

We'll be sure to keep our condolences brief so they don't get in the way of criticizing China (and the US) on completely unrelated issues.

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My condolences and prayers to the Chinese people. Hope that the government will give utmost priority to those affected, not like in Myanmar wherein their leaders still thinking about the referendum. IT IS A SHAME!!!

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So far, it is obvious the CCP has been doing a lot better job than Japan did at the time of the Hanshin earthquake. Right after the Hanshin earthquake, the Hyogo governor was so slow to ask for the SDF’s help.

This time, the scale of the disaster is so immense that China alone may not be able to handle this massive disaster. I hope the CCP will ask for the help of other countries and the UN, and let foreign rescuers in if they haven’t done so.

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It is pretty sad and bring back the old memory of Kobe earthquake in 1994. How many people dead at the time? Was the response of the emergency service fast enough? Disaster region will rise again like Kobe. It is a life cycle of destruction and creation.

I saw one local posted as 3 minutes earth quake like 30000 hours. If the earth quake take 7 mins, I can not imagine what will be like that?

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My heart goes out to those families effected by the quake in China. Atleast you have a rational, helpful government to deal with this tragic natural disaster,but poor Myanmar victims (1.5 millions)have not.

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It is pretty sad and bring back the old memory of Kobe earthquake in 1994.

I think that was in early 1995 because I was working in China at that time. I heard about the earthquake on either VOA or BBC and informed my Chinese colleagues, who were surprised because the Chinese government had not broadcast this news. Back in those days they had a lock on the dissemination of information. That's no longer the case with the internet and sattelite TV reaching all corners of the country.

Though its response may be found wanting, Beijing will not willfully interfere with outside relief efforts like the Burmese government. Yet devastating earthquakes also have a historic function of signifying those in power have lost "the mandate of heaven." The Tangshan earthquake in 1976, to which this is being compared, occurred weeks before Mao Zedong died.

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It would be really interesting if China asked other nations for help to the extent that they asked Japan to send their GSDF troops. On one hand it would be the penultimate step in Hu Jing Tao's program of rebuilding Friendship and Trust between China and Japan. Particularly since the JSDF probaly has more accrued experience helping out after earthquakes than just about any military organization on this planet. On the other hand the rabid Chinese ultra-nationalists would all get their collective panties in a knot. Fortunately we may never have to tst this since the Chinese PLA together with the paramilitary police have more men than they can count.

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Just saw the FoxNews website. 19,000 so far. Hopefully, the final numbers won't be anywhere near the 1976 quake.

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