7,600 feared killed in China earthquake (Lead: China)

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New Delhi, May 12 : A massive earthquake that struck central and south western China on Monday has reportedly killed over 7,600 people and trapping nearly 900 students under the rubble of their school, raising fears the overall death toll could increase sharply.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, Beichuan county, which falls just east of the epicentre, saw 80 per cent of its buildings collapsing and some 10,000 people were injured, aside from the 3,000 to 5,000 dead.

Xinhua cited the Sichuan provincial government as saying 7,651 people died across the province, but the situation in at least two counties remain unclear.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck in the middle of Monday afternoon - when classrooms and office towers were full - 57 miles (92 kilometers) northwest of Sichuan's capital of Chengdu.

The quake emptied office buildings across the country in Beijing, could be felt as far away as Vietnam, crashed telephone networks and hours later left parts of Chengdu, a city of 10 million, in darkness.

The State Seismological Bureau located its epicentre in Wenchuan County. Buildings shook in Beijing and Shanghai, residents reported, however there were no immediate reports of damage there. Tremors were also felt in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Hanoi and Taipei, residents said.

China's Three Gorges Dam was not damaged by the quake, Xinhua said in a separate report.

Details of their plight were still coming through but reports said that the students were buried when their school building collapsed in Dujiangyan.

Buildings also collapsed in the town of Wenchuan. Communications to the town appeared to have been severed, with calls failing to connect to both fixed line and mobile telephones.

President Hu Jintao has urged "all-out" efforts to rescue victims of the quake. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is trying to reach the epicentre after the tremor rocked the region at a depth of 18 miles this afternoon.

The decision to send Jiabao was the first hint that officials feared a high casualty toll in a region with a large Tibetan population that has seen anti-Chinese unrest in recent weeks.

Troops have already been sent to help with disaster relief work in Wenchuan, a city of about 111,000 people in Sichuan.

Wenchuan is best known as the home of the Wolong Nature Reserve, China's leading research and breeding base for the endangered giant panda. Calls to the base failed to connect.

The government in Aba prefecture of Sichuan province said buildings had collapsed and many were cracked. Mountain roads had been damaged.

The earthquake was felt as far away as Vietnam and Thailand, startling office workers in high-rise buildings. There were no reports of damage. In Beijing, office workers rushed in panic out of towers in the capital's financial district.

One of China's tallest buildings, the Jinmao Tower in Shanghai, as well as other skyscrapers were ordered to evacuate after the tremor and aftershocks.

There are harrowing reports from the scene of the school collapse in Dujiangyan city - about 100km (60 miles) from the epicentre.

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 the strongest to hit Sichuan province in more than 30 years, Xinhua reports.

State television said the quake had not caused major damage to Chengdu, which has a population of more than 10 million people.

China's worst earthquake in modern history was centred in the northern city of Tangshan and killed some 250,000 people on July 27, 1976. That tremor lasted for 15 seconds and flattened 90 percent of buildings. It was the deadliest in the world of the 20th century.

ANI

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