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Page last updated at 07:31 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 08:31 UK

China quake 'worse than expected'

Thousands are trapped in the rubble in devastated cities like Bechuan.

First reports from the epicentre of Monday's earthquake in China's Sichuan province suggest the number of dead could be higher than feared.

Local officials in Yingxiu, in Wenchuan County, said the devastation was worse than expected, as roads were blocked and children buried in debris.

Out of the town's population of 10,000, only 2,300 have been found alive after Monday's quake, of magnitude 7.9.

The official death toll is more than 12,000, and looks set to rise sharply.

Poor weather has continued to hamper aid efforts, and rescuers have been forced to trek to areas cut off by the quake damage and search through the rubble with their bare hands.

Chinese authorities have sent 50,000 troops to the province to search for survivors and to deliver aid.

An army team in Yingxiu said they could hear cries under the rubble of collapsed buildings. The troops have rescued about 1,000 people in Wenchuan County, but an estimated 60,000 people remain missing.

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Children pulled from the rubble in Dujiangyan

The BBC's Dan Griffiths, in Juyuan, said more than 1,000 people were thought to be trapped in a collapsed school building.

He says China's one child policy means that, for most of the relatives desperately waiting outside, their only offspring is under the rubble.

About 18,000 people are reported to be trapped at Beichuan, close to the epicentre.

Boy trapped in building

One student saved from the rubble of a collapsed school building told China's CCTV: "I sensed nothing before the quake, all the chairs and tables fell onto the ground a few seconds later.

"I looked at the wall, and all the things that hung on the wall had fallen to the ground. And then the wall collapsed. It became dark."

In one city, Mianyang, 18,000 people are said to be buried under the rubble, and in nearby Mianzhu, at least 4,800 are reported trapped.

In Shifang, where two chemical plants collapsed, releasing a huge toxic cloud, about 600 people were reported dead and up to 2,300 still buried.

Sichuan Vice-Governor Li Chengyun said the death toll included: 7,395 in Mianyang, 2,648 in Deyang City, 959 in the provincial capital Chengdu, 700 in Guangyuan City, and 161 in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture.

Later there were reports that 3,000 were dead in Mianzhu.

Complex situation

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao promised no effort would be spared to rescue those trapped and look after the survivors.

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

"We will save the people," he declared through a loudhailer to people in Shifang. "People are trapped in debris; we must use every second."

But he expressed frustration that rescue efforts were being held up by testing conditions.

"The disaster situation is worse than expected, and the rescue sites are quite complex," he admitted.

People have set up tents or makeshift shelters on almost any piece of open land, even in the middle of road junctions.

Some 10,000 refugees were packed into Mianyang's Jiuzhou Gymnasium, where empty water bottles, boxes of instant noodles and cigarette cartons littered the ground, AP reported.

The health ministry has made an urgent appeal for people to give blood to help the injured.

The quake struck on Monday at 1428 local time (0628 GMT) and was felt as far away as Beijing and the Thai capital, Bangkok.

It was the worst to strike China in three decades - since more than 240,000 people were killed in Tangshan in 1976.

China's Olympic Games organisers say they will scale down the route of the torch through the country.

In the south- eastern city of Ruijin thousands of people held a one-minute silent tribute to the dead in the earthquake.

US President George W Bush expressed condolences to victims' families, while the US, UK, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan reportedly offered aid.

China said it would gratefully accept international help to cope with the quake.

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