A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southwest China Monday afternoon, and was centered in Sichuan province. It struck in the middle of the school day, 2:30 p.m. local time, and toppled at least eight schools. Factories and one hospital collapsed, trapping hundreds, state media said.
By early evening Tuesday, the official death toll stood at 11,921, making it China's deadliest natural disaster in three decades. It was the worst since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, which claimed 242,000 lives. According to officials, the death toll could climb dramatically higher as there are at least 10,000 people missing and unaccounted for.
Rescue workers were struggling to reach areas cut off by the earthquake that has left so many thousands dead and hundreds of thousands injured and homeless. More than 50,000 soldiers have been working to assist in the efforts to find and assist victims. Most victims were in the center of Sichuan Province. In Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, thousands of residents experienced more than 300 tremors. They were shown camping out in the streets. The Sichuan provincial seismological bureau said more than 1,180 tremors up to six magnitude have been recorded as of 5 a.m. on Tuesday.
The quake destroyed 80 percent of structures in some towns and small cities near its epicenter, Chinese officials said. Tremors were felt as far away as Vietnam and set off another, smaller quake in the outskirts of Beijing, 1,440 kilometers, or 900 miles away, rattling office workers in the capital.. The earthquake also shook buildings as far south as Thailand. The quake also destroyed an important ancient city in Langzhong, felling a 32-meter-tall tower about 400 years old.
One aftershock on Tuesday afternoon registered a magnitude of 6.1. Most of the worst hit areas remained without cellular phone service. Passenger rail service in Sichuan was suspended, and 13 tank cars containing gasoline on a derailed freight train in neighboring Gansu Province were still burning Tuesday night.
There is a desperate need for drinking water, food, medicines, tents and professional rescuers and equipment. There is no news about the situation in the townships of Yingxiu, Wolong and Xuankou, which are located exactly at the epicenter.