The deadly earthquake that rocked southwestern China and felt all across the country and beyond, has killed more than 10,000 people by early Tuesday, and the death toll is expected to climb as rescue efforts are intensifying.
The 7.8-magnitude tremor devastated a region of small cities and towns set amid steep and forestry hills northwestern of Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu. Striking in mid-afternoon on Monday, it emptied office buildings across the country in Beijing and Shanghai and could be felt as far away as Vietnam and Thailand.
The killer quake toppled buildings, schools and chemical plants, trapping unknown numbers in mounds of concrete, steel, wooden frames, bricks and earth in China's worst earthquake in three decades.
Roads to Wenchuan County, epicenter of the quake, were blocked by fallen rocks and debris. PLA army are sending heavy machinery to clear the roads. Sichuan provincial officials said more than one third of the buildings and houses in Wenchuan were leveled off. The casualties there remain unknown.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, back to Beijing following a 5-day state visit to Japan, convened a CPC Politburo Standing Committee meeting Monday night, and ordered all-out efforts for the rescue. More than 16,000 PLA officers, soldiers and police have rushed to the quake-stricken areas.
Premier Wen Jiabao, heading a slew of government ministers and leading the overall rescue endeavoring, flew to Sichuan province Monday evening. Wen inspected a local hospital and a middle school in Juyuan town, where a three-story high school collapsed and up to 900 students were trapped in the rubbles. Xinhua news agency said that more than 50 have been found dead.
Wen ordered no single minute should be wasted in order to save those trapped alive in the debris. Online photos showed people using cranes, mechanical hoists and their hands to remove slabs of concrete and steel.
"Please just hold on, people are going to get you out of here, " Wen told the people trapped in the collapsed buildings in a loudspeaker.
China's CCTV footages on Tuesday showed more than 10 trapped in the debris have been rescued alive, including a middle-year woman, and a small girl, her face covered with ashes, being moved out from the debris on a stretcher, and rushed to hospital.
When comforting patients and medical staffs in the hospital in Dujiangyan, suburban Chengdu, Premier Wen asked rescuing troops to search every corner for people waiting for salvation and carry out the rescue work in an orderly way.
"If there is a gleam of hope, we will do all the best to save the people," Wen vowed at the middle school at Juyuan town, adding that the rescuing team would not rest until the last one under the ruin was saved.
"The medical experts are coming, the rescuing planes will land soon," Wen told people crying for help in the school, "I was told many trapped people have hopes to survive from the disaster."
He made a three-time bow to pay his respect to the bodies of the people killed by the quake laid on the school's square, saying that he was very depressed.
Premier Wen told officials at the temporary headquarters for disaster relief in Dujiangyan that roads to Wenchuan should be recovered as soon as possible at all costs.
"The road is the key for the relief work since we can only know the situation there when we can send people and we can only transport the injured out when the road is clean," Wen said.
In Chengdu, the quake crashed telephone networks and hours later left parts of the city of 10 million in darkness.
"We can't get to sleep. We're afraid of the earthquake. We're afraid of all the shaking," said 52-year-old factory worker Huang Ju, who took her ailing, elderly mother out of the Jinjiang District People's Hospital. Outside, Huang sat in a wheelchair wrapped in blankets while her mother, who was ill, slept in a hospital bed next to her.
Meawhile, Wenchuan county officials appealed for emergency air drops of tents, food and medicine. "We also need medical workers to save the injured people here," said a county official.
"I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy," US President George W. Bush said in a statement.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge sent his condolences to President Hu Jintao, adding: "The Olympic Movement is at your side, especially during these difficult moments. Our thoughts are with you."
The quake was the deadliest since one in 1976 in the city of Tangshan east of Beijing that killed 240,000, the most devastating in modern history. A 1933 quake near where Monday's struck killed at least 9,000, according to geologists.
Monday's quake occurred on a fault where South Asia pushes against the Eurasian land mass, smashing the Sichuan plain into mountains leading to the Tibetan highlands.
In Chengdu, the region's commercial center, the airport closed for seven hours, reopening only for emergency and a few outbound flights. A major railway line to the northeast was ruptured, stranding about 10,000 passengers, Xinhua said. Although most of the power had been restored by nightfall, phone and Internet service was spotty and some neighborhoods remained without power and water.
Although initially measured at 7.8 magnitude, the US Geological Survey later revised its assessment of the quake to 7.9. Its depth -- about 29 kilometres below the surface, according to the USGS -- gave the tremor such wide impact, geologists said.
The earthquake also rattled buildings in Beijing, causing evacuations of office towers. People ran screaming into the streets in other cities, where many residents said they had never felt an earthquake.
In Beijing, where hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors are expected for the Olympics, stadiums, arenas and other venues for the games were unaffected.