CHENGDU, China (AFP) — The death toll from a huge earthquake in southwest China climbed to nearly 10,000 on Tuesday as rescuers scrambled to reach thousands of people buried under debris.
Premier Wen Jiabao warned the situation was worse than first feared following the 7.8-magnitude quake which struck close to densely populated areas of Sichuan province on Monday.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency said nearly 10,000 had been killed, quoting the disaster relief headquarters. The previous toll stood at more than 8,700, including 8,533 confirmed dead in Sichuan province alone.
The area had been rocked by more than 1,180 aftershocks of up to magnitude six as of 5:00 am on Tuesday, the Sichuan provincial seismological bureau said, according to Xinhua.
"I heard the vents ruffling and then started to feel the building shake and a couple of bits of the ceiling fell," Richard Morgan-Sanjurjo, a 30-year-old business consultant in Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan, told AFP.
"I ran so fast. I thought the building was going to come down on my head," he said.
Buildings swayed in Beijing and Shanghai, while the quake was felt in Hong Kong, Vietnam and in the Thai capital Bangkok, 1,800 kilometres (1,200 miles) from the epicentre.
"Several thousand" people were killed or buried in a southwestern China town where a major factory collapsed after a powerful earthquake, state-run Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday.
The report, which gave few other specifics on the casualty numbers, said the disaster occurred when a steam turbine factory collapsed Monday in the town of Hanwang in Mianzhu city.
Xinhua earlier quoted disaster relief officials saying up to 5,000 people died in one Sichuan district, Beichuan, where 80 percent of buildings collapsed.
Dozens of military vehicles are heading there, the agency said.
"The situation is worse than we previously estimated and we need more people here to help," Premier Wen said, speaking at the disaster relief headquarters in Dujiangyan, 100 kilometres from the quake's epicentre.
"We cannot just rely on medical teams inside Sichuan province, we need teams to come in from outside," Wen was quoted as saying on CCTV.
President Hu Jintao, describing the quake as the top government priority, urged an "all-out" effort to rescue victims. Troops were ordered to help with disaster relief work.
There was still little news out of Wenchuan county, the mountainous region at the epicentre, more than 16 hours after disaster struck, although Xinhua reported at least 30 dead there.
All lines of communication were cut with the county, which has a population of 112,000 and is home to the Wolong Nature Reserve, China's leading research and breeding base for endangered giant pandas.
But an official in Wenchuan county managed to appeal for emergency aid via a satellite phone, Xinhua reported.
"We are in urgent need of tents, food, medicine and satellite communications equipment through air drop," Xinhua quoted Wang Bin, Communist Party secretary of the county, as saying.
"We also need medical workers to save the injured people here."
Relief forces were approaching the county on foot, the news agency said, as vehicles were not able to use the road littered with rocks and boulders.
The health ministry dispatched emergency medical teams to Wenchuan and the Chinese Red Cross sent tents and quilts.
The civil affairs and finance ministries allocated 200 million yuan (about 28.6 million dollars) for the relief effort.
The death toll is the highest for a quake in China since 242,000 perished when the northern city of Tangshan was flattened in 1976.
US President George W. Bush expressed his condolences and said the United States "stands ready to help." Japan said it was ready to provide as much relief aid as possible and Russia also offered help.
The government in Shifang city, where a major chemical leak happened after the quake, said about 600 people died, according to Xinhua. As many as 2,300 people are still buried.
In Anxian county about 500 people were killed and 85 percent of the houses in rural areas collapsed.
The new toll came as more student corpses were found buried at a school in Dujiangyan City, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the epicentre and one of the worst-hit areas, Xinhua reported.
The number of dead there had reached 60, up from 50 reported previously, it said.
All trains to and from Chengdu were stopped, the city's airport was closed and planes diverted for engineers to assess the runways.
The quake's epicentre was about 93 kilometres from Chengdu, a city of more than 12 million people, and 260 kilometres from Chongqing and its 30 million population.
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