On Monday, May 12th the largest natural disaster since 1976 hit southwestern China. An earthquake estimated to have had a magnitude of 7.9 hit a Wenchuan, a mountainous region outside of the capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu toppling thousands of homes, factories, and schools. Over 80 percent of structures near the quake's epicenter was toppled trapping many inside. Chengdu, the largest city in the area, 60 miles away did not appear to have sustained major damage. According to China's State Seismological Bureau, the initial quake struck at 2:28 Beijing time and could be felt as far away as Vietnam set off a smaller earthquake on the outskirts of Beijing.
The quake toppled cell phone towers and knocked out power in the affected area cutting it off from the rest of the world and limited information getting out on how much damage was caused. It has been stated that the death toll will rise considerably as rescue workers reach the most heavily affected areas. China's State media reported that 10,000 people remain buried in Mianzhu, located near the epicenter, alone. Two known schools each with approximately 1,000 students each were reduced to rubble, setting off a frantic search for survivors. In Shifang, two chemical factories were destroyed burying their workers and releasing over 80 tons of toxic liquid ammonia. Over 6,000 people had to evacuate their homes.
China's government officials immediately mobilized over 50,000 soldiers to help with rescue efforts, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was flown to the scene to help coordinate disaster response teams. It is reported that he stood outside a hospital in Dujiangyan shouting encouragement to the people trapped inside.
According to CCTV, China's State-owned Television network, showed 100 police officers climbing along the areas only road, which was blocked by rockslides, in an attempt to open a route to Wenchuan, but as of Tuesday morning had yet to make it through.
In Chengdu City, residents fearful of aftershocks were seen huddling outside in the rain, which had started soon after the earthquake, afraid to go back indoors. The Huaxi Hospital in Chengdu, one of the largest hospitals in western China, started receiving patients from surrounding counties on Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday morning, over 180 patients had arrived from the surrounding areas. Kang Zhilin, a spokesman for the hospital said, "The first patients who came had jumped from buildings because they were frightened." Nearly 4,000 patients were relocated from wards on the hospital's upper floors to an outdoor courtyard and had to sit in the rain covered with plastic tarps.
Xinhua, the state-run news agency, has given extensive coverage to the disaster and has published regular updates on the situation, including the latest death tolls, on its Chinese and English Web sites. Xinhua reported on Tuesday that no foreigners have been killed or injured due to the earthquake.