Children Pulled from Rubble after China Quake

Posted: May 14, 2008 in News
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CHONGQING, CHINA — A magnitude 7.9 earthquake rocked China from mountains to coast Monday, knocking down schools, homes and chemical plants and killing thousands of people, many of them children trapped in their classrooms.

The official death toll rose to nearly 12,000, with most of the victims in south-central China’s Sichuan province, where the quake was centered 60 miles northwest of the provincial capital, Chengdu.

At least eight schools collapsed, according to Chinese news agencies, resulting in the deaths of children and teachers.

A dramatic rescue effort was mounted Monday in Dujiangyan city, near the epicenter, where a middle school collapsed and trapped 900 teenagers under the rubble. Some children were rescued.

But by today, most of the students being brought out were dead. Dozens of bodies lay in makeshift shelters, with a chain of security guards, arms locked, holding back a desperate, pushing crowd that hoped to catch a glimpse of a familiar piece of clothing as every few minutes another victim was carried from the shattered schoolhouse.

The quake took place at 2:28 p.m. local time Monday. Across China, millions of people felt what many described as a sensation of being blind drunk, wobbling on their feet, and then the terror of realizing what was happening.

“Lots of people were running; the whole community was terrified,” said Liu Zho, a 22-year-old student from Chongqing, about 200 miles from the epicenter. “People were very scared, you could tell [by] the way people were acting. All communications were cut or overloaded almost immediately with everyone busy trying to make calls.”

At least 50 people were killed in Chongqing, among them five children whose school collapsed.

Zhao Cunfu, a teacher at the Lirang Village Elementary School in Chongqing, said by telephone that he was sitting in his office when he suddenly felt dizzy. Stumbling into the hallway, he found a crowd of first-graders crying and frantic.

“The children panicked. They were pushing one another. They were very small. It was easy for them to get hurt,” Zhao said. A dormitory at the school collapsed and many classrooms were damaged.

In Chengdu, a city of 11 million, witnesses described mass panic when the quake hit.

“Cars were bouncing along the street. Everyone came rushing out of their buildings,” said Chris Fay, a British bar owner, in a telephone interview over the howl of sirens in the background.

“It lasted a long time, maybe four or five minutes,” said Daisy Cang, a bookstore employee in Chengdu, who said she was alerted to the quake when the beer cans stacked in her refrigerator toppled over.

Fearful of aftershocks, residents poured into the streets. Chinese state television showed footage of office workers with their laptops at an outdoor cafe, while others lounged around the flower beds, appearing to enjoy a rare break on a spring day.

But the government-run television showed none of the more gruesome scenes from the earthquake, and glimpses of the devastation came only from short items offered by the official news agencies.

Overnight, many camped out in parks and on the street for fear that aftershocks could knock down more buildings.

It was reported that two chemical plants collapsed in Shifang, northeast of the epicenter. One of them spilled 80 tons of toxic ammonia. The death toll in the town was reported at 600, with hundreds more trapped in the rubble.

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