Earthquake in China: Death toll rises to thousands

MORE than 7,000 people were killed today after a massive earthquake rocked central China.

Chinese state media added that another 10,000 were believed hurt in the tremor, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.

The Xinhua news agency said 7,651 people were killed in Sichuan province, the quake's epicentre.

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Around 900 children were trapped after their school collapsed about 60 miles from the epicentre. Eighty percent of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan county, just east of the centre. The situation in at least two counties remain unclear.

The quake struck in the middle of the afternoon when offices, factories and public buildings were full. It was felt as far away as Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

It also cut power and water supplies in the area. The Xinhua News Agency said five power stations were put out of action and six transformer substations were shut down in Sichuan.

Three more power stations and two substations have been knocked out in Shaanxi province to the north of Sichuan.

The quake struck at 2.28 pm (07.28 BST), the US Geological Survey said, followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.

An Israeli student in Juyuan, Ronen Medzini said power and water supplies had been cut.

"Traffic jams, no running water, power outs, everyone sitting in the streets, patients evacuated from hospitals sitting outside and waiting," he said.

The earthquake also rattled buildings in Beijing 930 miles to the north.

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Many Beijing office towers were evacuated, including the building housing the media offices for the organisers of the Olympics, which start in August.

Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Chengdu just before sunset to oversee rescue work.

"The Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council have asked officials at all levels to be at the front line of the fighting the earthquake and lead the people in their rescue work," he said.

People ran screaming into the streets in other cities, where many residents said they had never been in an earthquake. In Fuyang, 660 miles to the east in Anhui province, chandeliers in the lobby of the Buckingham Palace Hotel swayed.

"We've never felt anything like this our whole lives," said one employee.

Patients at the town's hospital were evacuated. An hour after the quake, a half-dozen patients in blue-striped pyjamas stood outside the hospital. One was laying on a hospital bed in the parking lot.

In Shanghai, skyscrapers swayed and most office workers ran into the streets. The quake was also felt as far away as Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan.

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

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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 north-eastern city of Tangshan on July 28, 1976, killing 240,000 people.

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