A powerful earthquake toppled buildings, schools and chemical plants yesterday in China, killing nearly 10,000 people and trapping untold numbers in mounds of concrete, steel and earth in the country’s worst quake in three decades.

Striking in midafternoon, it emptied office buildings as far away as Beijing and could be felt in Vietnam.

The official Xinhua news agency reported nearly 10,000 people died in Sichuan province alone and 216 others in three other provinces and the mega-city of Chongqing.


Worst affected were four counties including the quake’s epicentre in Wenchuan, about 100 kilometres northwest of Chengdu. Landslides blocked roads early today, causing the government to order soldiers into the area on foot, state television said, while heavy rains prevented four military helicopters from landing.

Snippets from state media and photos posted on the Internet underscored the immense scale of the devastation.

The official Xinhua news agency said about 600 people died in Shifang city, which was the site of a major chemical leak. The report did not say whether people were killed by the quake or the chemical leak.

Xinhua said as many as 2,300 people in the city were still buried under rubble.

In the town of Juyuan, south of the epicentre, a three-storey high school collapsed, burying as many as 900 students and killing at least 50, the news agency said. Photos showed people using cranes, mechanical hoists and their hands to remove slabs of concrete and steel.

Buried teenagers struggled to break free from the rubble, “while others were crying out for help,” Xinhua said. Families waited in the rain near the wreckage as rescuers wrote the names of the dead on a blackboard, Xinhua said.

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