107 dead in China quake

BEIJING – The death toll rose to at least 107 from today’s earthquake in central China.

The total does not appear to include any of the nearly 900 students feared buried in a collapsed high school.

The powerful earthquake struck southwestern China on Monday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Around 900 students have been buried after the powerful earthquake rocked China, killing several people, according to reports. The trapped students are located in the south-western province of Sichuan,

Four schoolchildren were killed and at least 110 injured when the quake toppled two primary schools in the Chongqing region. Another person was killed when a water tower collapsed in neighbouring Sichuan province.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale according to the Chinese authorities and the United States Geological Survey, caused buildings to sway thousands of miles away in Beijing, Taiwan and even Bangkok.

It hit the 58 miles north-west of the province’s major city of Chengdu.

Immediate reports told of residents fleeing their offices and homes in panic as they shifted violently in the shock, just before 2.30pm local time. Television pictures showed some residents clutching bloodied faces.

The first reports of deaths came from Chongqing, a city 200 miles away, where two primary schools collapsed killing four students. At least one other person died, and another 100 were injured, according to the authorities.

The army has been mobilised to help with relief efforts, while the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, was said to be on his way to the region.

The epicentre was in the rural county of Wenchuan. Immediate but unconfirmed reports said that some buildings, including the county hospital, had fallen down. But a regional emergency planning official said he had no full picture of conditions there as telephone lines were either down or overloaded.

The local government issued a statement saying that buildings and roads had been damaged and people injured but gave no estimates of casualties.

Wenchuan is at the tip of Tibetan-occupied areas of the country, and generally sparsely populated. Its total official population is 110,000.

South-eastern Sichuan and the greater Chongqing area are among the most densely populated in China, however. Chengdu’s population is more than 12 million.

The strength of the earthquake and the extent of the affected area suggest that the death toll is likely to grow.

In Beijing, almost 1,400 miles away, buildings swayed for two minutes, while the effects were felt all over the country. In Shanghai, the Jinmao tower, the country’s tallest building, was evacuated, along with many other of the city’s skyscrapers, while residents reported feeling the tremors even in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It was also felt in neighbouring countries as far south as Bangkok, Thailand.

Wenchuan’s most famous residents are the pandas of the Wolong nature reserve, the world’s largest collection and breeding centre for the species. There were no immediate reports of casualties.