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Nearly 9,000 Dead in [China] Quake

Associated Press

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7.9 temblor topples schools, factories, hospital in Sichuan province


August 12, 2004


CHENGDU, China - One of the worst earthquakes in decades struck central China on Monday, killing nearly 9,000 people, trapping about 900 students under the rubble of their school and causing a toxic chemical leak, state media reported.

Photo: Rescuers search the rubble of the collapsed Juyuan middle school where six children died in Dujiangyan, in southwest China Sichuan province on May 12, 2008 after an earthquake measuring 7.8 rocked the province. At least 107 people have been confirmed killed by a powerful earthquake that struck southwestern China, as the tremor, centered 92 kms northwest of Chengdu, was felt as far away as Beijing and Shanghai and the Thai capital Bangkok, where office buildings swayed with the impact. (AFP/AFP/ Getty Images)

The 7.9-magnitude quake devastated a region of small cities and towns set amid steep hills north of Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu. Striking in mid-afternoon, it emptied office buildings across the country in Beijing, could be felt as far away as Vietnam and in Chengdu crashed telephone networks and hours later left parts of the city of 10 million in darkness.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported 8,533 people died in Sichuan alone and more than 200 others in three other provinces and the mega-city of Chongqing.

Xinhua said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan county in Sichuan province after the quake, raising fears the overall death toll could increase sharply.

A chemical plant collapsed in Shifang city, to the northeast of the quake’s epicenter, burying hundreds of people and sending more than 80 tons of toxic liquid ammonia leaking from the site, state media reported.

The earthquake 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 and Thailand.

The quake posed a challenge to a government already grappling with discontent over high inflation and a widespread uprising among Tibetans in western China while trying to prepare for the Beijing Olympics this August.


Monday’s quake hit 60 miles northwest of Chengdu — a city of 3.75 million — in the middle of the school day, toppling at least eight schools, leaving hundreds of students and teachers trapped, state media said. There were several smaller aftershocks, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site.

Photo: Chinese residents sleep out on the streets for fear of aftershocks in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province on May 12, 2008, after an earthquake measuring 7.8 rocked the province. More 8,600 people have died in China's Sichuan province after a powerful earthquake struck there. (STR /AFP/ Getty Images)

"It was really scary to be on the 26th floor in something like that," said Tom Weller, a 49-year-old American oil and gas consultant staying at the Holiday Inn. "You had to hold on to something like that or you'd fall over. It shook for so long and so violently, you wondered how long the building would be able to stand this."

The temblor struck hilly country leading up to the Tibetan highlands, toppling buildings in small cities and towns in the largely rural area.

It hit one of the last homes of the giant panda at the Wolong Nature Reserve and panda breeding center, in Wenchuan county, which remained out of contact, Xinhua said. About 1,200 pandas — 80 percent of the surviving wild population in China — live in Sichuan.

The Wolong PandaCam, a live online video feed showing the activities of the pandas at the nature reserve, stopped showing footage of the animals late Sunday night.

The earthquake occurred in an area with numerous fault lines that have triggered destructive temblor before. A magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Diexi, Sichuan, that hit on Aug. 25, 1933, killed more than 9,300 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey initially said Monday's quake had a magnitude of 7.8 but later revised it to 7.9.


Xinhua said 50 bodies had been pulled from the debris of the school building in Juyuan town but did not say if the children were alive. Xinhua reported students also were buried under five other toppled schools in Deyang city.

Xinhua 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.”

Photo: In this photo distributed by the official Xinhua news agency, rescuers try to save wounded students at Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan Township of Dujiangyan City, about 100 kilometers from the epicenter in Wenchuan county of southwest China's Sichuan province, on Monday May 12, 2008. Nearly 900 students here were feared buried when a high school building collapsed in the earthquake, Xinhua said. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Chen Xie)

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

Photos showed heavy cranes trying to remove rubble from the ruined school. Other photos posted on the Internet and found on the Chinese search engine Baidu showed arms and a torso sticking out of the rubble of the school as dozens of people worked to free them, using their hands to move concrete slabs.

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.

Photo: In this photo distributed by the official Xinhua news agency, people look upwards after running out of high buildings in Nanjing, northwest China, after a powerful, magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck mountainous central China on Monday May 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Han Yuqing)

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.

Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Chengdu and President Hu Jintao ordered an “all-out” rescue effort, Xinhua reported.


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. None of the Olympic venues was damaged.

“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 Fuyang, 660 miles to the east, chandeliers in the lobby of the Buckingham Palace Hotel swayed. “We’ve never felt anything like this our whole lives,” said a hotel employee surnamed Zhu.

Photo: Hospital patients wait outside after an earthquake in Fuyang, in China's Anhui province Monday May 12, 2008. A powerful, magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck mountainous central China on Monday, killing five people when two primary schools and a water tower collapsed, state media reported. (Greg Baker / AP)

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.

Skyscrapers in Shanghai swayed and most office occupants went rushing into the streets.

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.

Thousands of army troops and paramilitary People’s Armed Police carrying medical supplies were also headed to the region, state television said. But a landslide had blocked a mountain road leading to Wenchuan, preventing troops from reaching the scene, state radio said.

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