Monday, May 12, 2008

7.8 Earthquake hits SW China

BEIJING — A powerful earthquake struck a mountainous region of western China on Monday, killing at least 107 people and trapping more than 900 students beneath a collapsed high school as tremors shook buildings for hundreds of miles and were felt as far away as Vietnam and Thailand, according to interviews and reports in China’s state media.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck in Sichuan Province on Monday afternoon and raised immediate concerns that the death toll could rapidly rise. State media reports said “rows of houses” had collapsed near the quake’s epicenter. By early evening, state media had reported 107 deaths and 34 injuries in three provinces and Chongqing Municipality.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who arrived in the earthquake region on Monday night, described the situation as a "very severe earthquake disaster." President Hu Jintao ordered an “all out” effort to aid people in the earthquake region while soldiers were dispatched for disaster relief efforts. Minutes after the western temblor, a second, smaller quake struck hundreds of miles away, near Beijing. Thousands of office workers were evacuated.
“I suddenly felt very dizzy, as if I were heavily drunk,” said Zeng Hui, who works on the 22nd floor of an office tower in Beijing. “I thought I was seriously ill, then I looked around and saw my colleagues felt the same way. We were stunned.”
The initial quake struck at 2:28 p.m., or 2:28 a.m., Eastern time, near Wenchuan County, according to China’s State Seismological Bureau. People across much of China and as far away as Thailand and Vietnam reported feeling the tremors.
Wenchuan is home to the Wolong Nature Reserve, the country’s most famous panda reserve, and is located about 55 miles from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, which has a population of roughly 12 million people.
Early reports and telephone interviews suggested that Chengdu had been spared any significant problems, but officials were struggling to assess the full scope of the damage in Wenchuan and elsewhere because of the disruption in communications caused by the earthquake. More than 2,300 cell phone towers were knocked down by the quake, according to China Mobile, the country’s top carrier.
Xinhua, the official news agency, said the 107 fatalities were spread across Sichuan, neighboring Chongqing Municipality as well as in Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Damage is believed to be especially severe in Dujiangyan, a county of 600,000 people located near the epicenter. One local official described rows of collapsed houses, Xinhua reported.
Early Monday evening, Xinhua also flashed an emergency report from Dujiangyan describing that nearly 900 students were feared trapped after a high school collapsed. Most of the telephones in the city were not functioning, and the Xinhua report could not be independently verified.
Earlier in the day, the first reports of fatalities came in the east in Chongqing Municipality, where two primary schools were damaged. Four pupils died and more than 100 others were injured, state media reported. Another person was reportedly killed beneath a collapsed water tower in Sichuan Province.
China is prone to seismic activity and has suffered horrific earthquakes in the recent past. In 1976, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Tangshan, located roughly 70 miles from Beijing. More than 240,000 people were killed and nearly every building was leveled. Communist Party officials initially covered up the extent of the death toll. Many of China’s biggest cities, including Beijing, are located in high-risk earthquake zones.
Monday’s smaller 3.9 magnitude earthquake in Beijing struck at 2:35 p.m. in Tongzhou, a district in the eastern half of the city. Many people in the city felt nothing at all, while others, especially those in high-rises, were alarmed by a swaying sensation. Thousands of workers were evacuated as a precaution.
“Suddenly, everything around me started moving and swinging,” said Xie Zhuofei, a salesman with a 17th floor office in Beijing. “I could hardly stand. Then I realized it was an earthquake. We went out immediately.”
Efforts to reach people near the epicenter of the bigger quake in western China were hindered by the damaged telephone system. But receptionists at different hotels in Chengdu said the earthquake appeared not to have caused any major problems in the city. Xinhua showed photographs of minor flooding caused by damage to an underground water pipe, but, as yet, the city seemed largely undamaged.


Alyson & Ford said...

When I heard this news my stomach tied up in knots. Appreciate your sharing the info as heart breaking as it is...

Briana's Mom said...

I am so upset about this. Briana is from Chongqing. It is so, so sad...