Five children were killed and more than 100 injured in a 7,8 magnitude earthquake that struck China’s Sichuan province on Monday, causing buildings to sway and residents rushing out into the streets.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the deaths occurred when two primary schools toppled in Liangping county of Chongqing, a municipality of 30-million that neighbours Sichuan.
State television showed footage of residents in the Sichuan capital Chengdu crowded in the streets looking relatively unscathed but for one woman shown bleeding from her head.
But an official at the seismological bureau there said phone lines in Sichuan’s Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the quake, were completely cut off and there were reports of damage to buildings in neighbouring counties, meaning there could yet be casualties in that area.
Premier Wen Jiabao was flying to Chengdu, a fast-growing metropolis of 10-million people famous for its Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.
The city is about 2 090km south-west of Beijing.
President Hu Jintao had ordered an ”all-out effort” to rescue those affected, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The quake was felt as far south-west as Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, about 3 300km away, where office buildings swayed for several minutes.
In the central Chinese city of Wuhan, people rushed outside and at least one single-storey building there collapsed, a university student said.
”All the buildings are swaying back and forth,” said the student by telephone.
”We felt continuous shaking for about two or three minutes,” said an office worker. ”All the people in our office are rushing downstairs. We’re still feeling slight tremblings.”
An employee at the local newspaper in Mianyang in Sichuan said there had been several earthquakes. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said there had been an aftershock of magnitude six at 6.43am GMT in roughly the same location and another at 7.34am GMT of magnitude 5,4.
One of China’s tallest buildings, the Jinmao Tower in Shanghai, as well as other high-rise buildings were ordered evacuated after the quake and aftershocks. Office workers in some buildings were later allowed to return.
”The air-conditioning unit fell off the wall. Vases are all broken,” said a resident in Sichuan’s Mianyang.
”The sick in hospital have been moved outside to open fields. There is no electricity and no mobile phone reception. People are afraid of aftershocks.”
USGS said on its website that the quake struck at 6.28am GMT at a depth of 29km. The agency originally put the strength of the quake at 7,8.
Sources said there was no immediate impact to the Three Gorges Dam project, the weight of whose massive reservoir, hundreds of kilometres from Chengdu, experts have said could increase the risk of tremors.
A source at the biggest refinery in western China, Lanzhou, said the plant also appeared unaffected by the quake.
An official with the Sichuan provincial seismic bureau said the epicentre was in Wenchuan county, in the mountainous Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture.
State television said a rescue team of 180 people had formed in Beijing and was preparing to fly to Sichuan.
A receptionist at the Tibet Hotel in Chengdu said the hotel had evacuated its guests, but said things were ”calm” there now.
”It was very sudden and I am not sure what has happened elsewhere, but we are OK here,” the receptionist said.
State television showed pictures of foreign tourists in bathrobes milling in a Chengdu street, apparently having fled their hotel.
The quake was felt as far away as Vietnam and Thailand, startling office workers in high-rise buildings.
”We have a number of reports that high buildings along Sukhumvit and Sathorn roads [in Bangkok] felt the tremors, but there are no reports of damage,” a geologist at Thailand’s Meteorological Department told Reuters.
In Vietnam’s capital Hanoi there was no visible damage, but hundreds left their buildings as a precaution. – Reuters