Chongqing (AsiaNews) – At least 900 students are trapped beneath a collapsed high school building in Dujiangyan (Sichuan) after a quake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale struck south-western China. Tremors were felt as far away as Beijing and Shanghai. The epicentre was located in the Wenchuan area, some 92 kilometres from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Phone communications were knocked out and the overall situation remains unknown.
The Xinhua news agency reported that three school buildings collapsed in Dujiangyan and that death toll was very high. But until a few hours ago reports said four children were killed and hundreds wounded in an elementary school in Liangping, Wanzhou diocese. The school collapsed and the children died beneath the rubble.
The BBC reported another death in Mianyang (Santai County).
Many buildings in Chengdu and Chongqing were damaged and now show cracks.
A priest in Chongqing told AsiaNews that a home for diocesan nuns, an old building under renovation, completely collapsed. No victims were reported among the nuns who were able to escape uninjured as soon as the first tremors were felt. The residence of the bishop of Wanzhou, Mgr He Zeqing, was also damaged.
Many people who fled offices and homes fearing repeated tremors are planning to spend the night in the open.
Chengdu is a city of some 10 million residents. The Chongqing area is home to at least 25 million people.
President Hu Jintao launched an appeal for an all-out effort to save the victims whilst Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is on its way to the region.
The affected area is located east of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Wenchuan County is home to the Wolong National Nature Reserve, where Chinese scientists are studying and raising pandas, an endangered mammal.