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Page last updated at 22:07 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 23:07 UK

Thousands dead in Chinese quake

Parents wait outside Juyuan Middle School in Sichuan, China, where 900 students were buried
Parents wait anxiously outside the flattened Juyuan Middle School

A powerful earthquake has killed at least 10,000 people in China's south-western Sichuan province, up to 5,000 of them in just one county.

Many more have been killed and injured in other parts of the country after the 7.8-magnitude quake struck at 1428 local time (0628 GMT).

At least 50 bodies have been recovered from the rubble of a school where an estimated 900 students were buried.

President Hu Jintao has urged "all-out" efforts to rescue victims.

Search teams were sent to the area but struggled to get through because routes were blocked.

The BBC's Michael Bristow, in nearby Chongqing, said torrential rains had also prevented helicopters gaining access.

With communication links down, he says there is still no real indication of the death toll at the epicentre, in Wenchuan county, about 92km (57 miles) from Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital.

'Major disaster'

One of the worst-hit areas appears to be Beichuan county, part of the Mianyang city municipal area, about 50km from the epicentre.

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Devastation in China

Some 80% of buildings there were reported to have been destroyed, leaving between 3,000 and 5,000 people dead and up to 10,000 injured.

Meanwhile hundreds of people were reported to have been buried in two collapsed chemical plants in Shifang in Sichuan, and at least five other schools were reported to be in ruins.

More than 150 people were killed in the other provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi, and in Chongqing municipality, Xinhua said.

REPORTED DEATHS
Sichuan province: 10,000
Shaanxi province: 61
Gansu province: 48
Chongqing municipality: 50
Yunnan province: 1
As reported by Xinhua, 2200 GMT Monday

The death toll could turn out to be much higher once the damage in Wenchuan county - the epicentre - is assessed, says BBC China analyst Shirong Chen.

The area is very rugged, full of mountains and valleys and a number of roads are connected with bridges from one mountain top to the next, he says.

A top official from the region, Wang Bin, appealed for outside help quickly.

"We are in urgent need of tents, food, medicine and satellite communications equipment through air drop," he said.

"We also need medical workers to save the injured people here."

There were fears that China's programme to save the endangered giant panda may have been affected.

We were in quite a narrow street where everything just started shaking... people were panicking... It was mayhem
Casper Oppenhuisdejong
BBC reader in Chengdu

Wenchuan county is home to the Wolong Nature Reserve, the country's leading research and breeding base for pandas - but the centre could not be reached by phone.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who flew to Chengdu immediately, said China needed "calm, confidence, courage and strong leadership".

"We will definitely overcome this major disaster," he promised.

US President George W Bush expressed condolences to victims' families, while Japan offered to send aid.

The Chinese Red Cross has sent hundreds of tents and thousands of blankets to the afflicted area.

Cries for help

There were harrowing reports from the scene of a school collapse in Dujiangyan city - just south-east of the epicentre - where 900 students were buried and 50 dead.

Teenagers buried beneath the rubble of the three-storey Juyuan Middle School building were struggling to break free, while others were crying out for help, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Parents were watching as cranes excavated the site. Villagers rushed to help with the rescue.

Two girls said they escaped because they had "run faster than others".

Dozens of aftershocks have been reported since the quake, which was felt in Beijing, 1,545km (960 miles) away, and the Thai capital Bangkok, 1,800km (1,200 miles) away.

RECENT CHINA QUAKES
March, 2008: 7.2 quake in Xinjiang - damage limited
February 2003: 6.8 quake in Xinjiang - at least 94 dead, 200 hurt
January 1998: 6.2 quake in rural Hebei - at least 47 dead, 2,000 hurt
April 1997: 6.6 quake hits Xinjiang - 9 dead, 60 hurt
January 1997: 6.4 quake in Xinjiang - 50 dead, 40 hurt

The earthquake was China's worst since 242,000 people were killed in 1976 by the Tangshan quake.

Sichuan province is the most populated part of China - home to 87 million people.

The provincial capital Chengdu, which has a population of more than 10 million people, was comparatively lightly damaged - though Xinhua cited an official with the local seismological bureau saying 45 people were killed there.

Some 5,000 troops have been sent to help with relief work.

The BBC's Quentin Somerville says this is probably the most significant natural disaster to hit China in recent memory, but that the Chinese army has a good record of mobilising and getting people to safety.

He also says it is one of the most open and speedy responses to an emergency he has ever seen from Chinese state media.

The quake was felt as far away as Beijing, he says, meaning millions of people will feel connected to the disaster and will be watching TV screens closely to see how the government responds.

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