China Quake Kills Thousands

The worst earthquake to strike China in decades has killed as many as 9,000 people, according China's official media, but authorities still haven’t reached numerous areas whose dead could push the toll far higher.

ChinaQuakeMap0511008-305.png A strong earthquake ripped through western China on May 12, toppling buildings and killing nearly 9,000 people, according to official figures. The death toll is expected to surge as rescue teams make their way into more remote areas.
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The quake, with a magnitude of at least 7.8, struck the southwestern province of Sichuan, with its epicenter about 100 kms (60 miles) from the provincial capital, Chengdu. The official Xinhua news agency said 8,533 people had been killed, quoting government officials.

“When the earthquake struck, I couldn’t even stand up,” one Chengdu resident said. “My refrigerator, my television, almost fell over. All the dishes are broken. I live on the third floor. Those who live on the 16th floor had to climb down from the building.”

Chengdu cyber-dissident Huang Qi said, “It was a very strong earthquake. Tables were shaking, computers fell to the floor. Even the aftershock was very strong. Bowls on the table made a lot of noise.”

“Many people escaped to open areas, like the streets. I think 90 percent of Chengdu residents left their residential buildings. Telecommunications literally collapsed. I was surprised to take your call,” he said.

Aftershocks were reported as far away as Laos.

“I was on the 15th floor of a building in Beijing’s financial district,” one Western businessman reported. “The whole thing was swaying strongly…You could hear screams and everyone started running...”

Massive toll

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"The building is still shaking, it's real," Zhao Zidong, a student at Sichuan University in Chengdu, says during the May 12 earthquake. Here, Zhao huddles under a desk in his dormitory as a friend videotapes, and the two citizen journalists plan to make their video available to others. Video: RFA/Cantonese

Official media said 3,000 to 5,000 people died in a single county, Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County, and 80 percent of buildings were destroyed. Eight schools toppled with students inside. Beichuan’s total population is only about 161,000, according to official figures.

Hundreds of people were buried in two collapsed chemical plants in Shifang in Sichuan, the online edition of the official Xinhua news agency said. About 6,000 people were evacuated, Xinhua said, adding that more than 80 tonnes of highly corrosive liquid ammonia had leaked.

The last quake of this magnitude to strike in China was the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, in which some 300,000 people are believed to have died.

“The earthquake happened around 2 p.m.,” one resident of Dujiangyan city said. “We all went outside to escape. All of the villagers are here outside now...The power is out and [there is] no water supply. We are setting up tents outside to stay in overnight.”

In Dujiangyan, rescuers have recovered at least 50 bodies from the debris of Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan township, which collapsed and buried almost 900 students, Xinhua said.

In Liangping county, where two schools collapsed and 120 teachers and students were injured, a local government official said, “Five people died and more than 100 are injured. We don’t know the exact figure yet.”

In Sanping county, where a water tower collapsed and at least one person died, a police officer declined to answer questions. “It’s not a good time to answer your call. We have to handle many callers who need assistance. We don’t have time to answer your call.” 

“I ran out of my building. Many others too," Huang Qi said. “We lost power but it has resumed an hour ago."

 Original reporting by RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin services. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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