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Earthquake Rocks Western China, Killing Thousands

A earthquake devastated southwestern China on Monday, killing as many as 10,000 people and trapping hundreds of others under flattened buildings, state media reported. After an update on the impact of the quake, Time Magazine's Beijing correspondent, Austin Ramzy, discusses details and rescue efforts.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The killer quake in China. We start with a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN, ITV News Correspondent:

    It was the day the Earth shook. A Chinese student reduced to cowering beneath his desk, while books and other objects are sent flying. This is over 50 miles from the epicenter.

    The quake hit 7.8 on the Richter scale, and the violent shaking here lasts for a full three minutes.

    Official Chinese media is tonight reporting that over 8,000 people have been killed in Sichuan province, with some 10,000 feared injured in just one county alone.

    Thousands are thought to be trapped under rubble. A collapsed chemical plant is reported to have buried hundreds. Phone lines have been cut, and many roads are proving impossible to the emergency services.

    In the regional capital, Chengdu, the sick were evacuated from hospital to the safety of the streets, though the epicenter was further north in a rural mountainous area, which is home to Tibetans, as well as Chinese.

    This is one of eight schools reported to have collapsed. It's feared that hundreds of teenagers were trapped inside. Four so far have been reported dead.

    Cranes reached the scene, as anxious parents looked on, waiting for news, though a landslide prevented Chinese troops from reaching the disaster zone.

    The quake struck in the early afternoon. Its tremors were felt 1,000 miles away in Beijing, the city preparing for the Olympics three months from now.

  • MAN:

    What is it?

  • MAN:

    It's got to be an earthquake.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    Thousands were evacuated, filling one of the capital's main avenues.

    And in a far cry from neighboring Burma, Beijing was swift to dispatch search-and-rescue teams to the worst-affected areas of Sichuan. A government already grappling with Tibetan unrest had apparently determined not to be caught off-guard.

  • EMERGENCY AID WORKER (through translator):

    The most difficult part is performing emergency aid on the spot. Within a short time, we have to calm down those who have been most severely hurt and then escort them to hospital.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    And Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, a geologist by training, has arrived in the earthquake region to take command.

  • WEN JIABAO, Premier, China (through translator):

    The Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council require all officials to stand in the front line of earthquake relief, to lead our people in their action. We should fight bravely and spare no sacrifice. We definitely will overcome this very serious disaster.

  • JONATHAN RUGMAN:

    In Chengdu city, at least 45 were reported killed, amid an urgent exodus outdoors.

    Factories were reported to have fallen on top of their occupants after what is believe to be the worst earthquake in China for over 30 years, with over 300 aftershocks, though China's massive Three Gorges Dam, a few hundred miles east, is reported to be safe.

    There were some lucky escapes: these women and their babies evacuated from a maternity hospital. This mother was wheeled out of the operating theater minutes after giving birth.

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