A powerful earthquake struck Western China on Monday, toppling thousands of homes, factories and offices, trapping students in schools, and killing at least 10,000 people, the country’s worst natural disaster in three decades.
The quake, which was estimated preliminarily to have had a magnitude of 8.0, ravaged a mountainous region outside Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, just after lunchtime Monday, destroying 80 percent of structures in some of the towns and small cities near its epicenter, Chinese officials said. Its tremors were felt as far away as Vietnam and set off another, smaller quake in the outskirts of Beijing, 900 miles away.
Landslides, power failures and fallen mobile phone towers left much of the affected area cut off from the outside world and limited information about the damage. But snapshots of concentrated devastation suggested that the death toll that could rise significantly as rescue workers reached the most heavily damaged areas.
In the town of Juyuan, south of the epicenter in the city of Wenchuan, a school collapsed, trapping 900 students in the rubble and setting off a frantic search for survivors that stretched through the night. Two chemical factories in Shifang were destroyed, spilling 80 tons of toxic liquid ammonia, officials told Chinese state media.
The destruction of a single steam turbine factory in the city of Mianzhu buried “several thousand” people, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday morning.
The quake was already China’s biggest natural disaster since another earthquake leveled the city of Tangshan in eastern China in 1976, leaving 240,000 people dead and posing a severe challenge to the ruling Communist Party, which initially tried to cover up the catastrophe.