An earthquake reaching magnitude 7.9 on the Richter scale hit Wenchuan County of Sichuan Province in Southwestern China at 2:28 P.M. on May 12 Beijing time (2:28 A.M. May 12, U.S. Eastern time).
According to China's official Xinhua News Agency, by 8:20 P.M. Beijing time the earthquake killed at least 8689 people and left more than 10,000 injured. The death toll is expected to rise as workers remove the rubble.
Tremors were felt in the entire region from Beijing in North China, Shanghai in the east to Hong Kong and Taiwan in the far south; tremors could be felt as far away as Bangkok, Thailand and Hanoi, in Viet Nam.
The region of the quake's epicenter, Wenchuan County, has been completely out of reach, according to Sichuan Earthquake Bureau, the earthquake has apparently destroyed all communications facilities. Therefore, actual casualties are expected to be far higher than the 8689 verified deaths in Sichuan and surrounding Gansu and Yunnan provinces and Chongqing Municipality.
One Sichuan resident told reporters, "Where I live is about 200 miles away from the epicenter. The local communication network has been cut off. This earthquake is worse than the Tangshan earthquake. The situation is still very severe."
Another said, "None of our phones work; our mobile phones have been cut off. The transportation system is down, too."
According to Chinese media, a school building in a nearby city collapsed and buried at least 900 students.
The Chinese authorities have sent rescue troops to area, but have not revealed any further details.
According to Xinhua, tremor was felt in Beijing at 2:35 P.M. local time.
The tremor in Shanghai measured 5.7 on the Richter scale. Out of safety concerns, cities including Beijing and Shanghai evacuated people from tall buildings.
Video: Footage of the earthquake shot by a Sichuan resident:
A resident of Chongqing, 217 miles (350 kilometers) from Wenchuan, said the tremor was very strong, and everyone was frightened. Several buildings collapsed. "I saw a billboard on top of a sixteen-story building shaking wildly," he said.
Reporters in Chengdu, 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Wenchuan, said they saw cracks in the walls of some residential buildings. Reportedly some buildings have collapsed in the downtown area.
Neighboring Yunnan Province has reported building collapses, but no casualty figures have been announced as of yet.
Because electricity and telecom networks have broken down, the outside world has only very limited information on the situation in the afflicted areas. Occasional aftershocks ripple through the region, keeping people in a state of panic.
One Wuhan resident told reporters, "There were reports from the Wuhan Seismological Institute on the Internet on May 7, telling people to prepare for an earthquake. Some residents called the local government for more information, but the local government dismissed it as a rumor. We think the local government is trying to cover up its error."
Chengdu residents told reporters that the earthquake was so strong, everyone ran out into the streets. "We heard a month ago that there would be an earthquake, now it has become a reality."
|8.5||Dec. 16, 1920||Gansu Province||230,000|
|8.0||May 23, 1927||Gansu Province||41,000|
|7.6||Dec, 26, 1932||Gansu Province||70,000|
|7.8||Jan. 5, 1970||Yunnan Province||15,621|
|7.1||May 11, 1974||Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces||10,000|
|7.8||July 28, 1976||Tangshan, Hebei Province||240,000 and 160,000 seriously wounded|
|7.8||May 12, 2008||Wenchuan, Sichuan Province||8689 to date|