In one county alone, 80 per cent of buildings collapsed, and up to 5,000 people died. Officials say there is no news yet from the towns at the epicentre, which have a total population of over 24,000. The 7.8 on the Richter Scale jolted Wenchuan County of southwest China's Sichuan Province at 2:28 p.m. on Monday. The number of dead is expected to rise once contact is made with Wenchuan county.
President Hu Jintao has urged "all-out" efforts to rescue victims of the quake. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao bowed three times in grief before some of the bodies that were pulled out, according to Xinhua. Telephone lines to the area are down, and roads are blocked by fallen rocks and boulders.There were also harrowing reports from the scene of a school collapse in Dujiangyan city - south-east of the epicentre - where 900 students were buried and at least 50 dead.
At another school in Dujiangyan, fewer than 100 students out of 420 are reported to have survived after their building collapsed. Another of the worst-hit areas appears to be Beichuan county, about 50km from the epicentre. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were reported to have been buried in two collapsed chemical plants in Shifang in Sichuan, and at least five other schools were reported to be in ruins.
Over 150 people were killed in the other provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi, and in Chongqing municipality. Dozens of aftershocks have been reported since the quake, which was felt in Beijing, and the Thai capital Bangkok. Troops have already been sent to help with disaster relief work in Wenchuan, a city of about 111,000 people in Sichuan.
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.