A powerful earthquake toppled buildings, schools and a chemical plant in China today, killing more than 8,700 people and trapping untold numbers in mounds of concrete, steel and earth.
Xinhua news agency said that a high school collapsed in Juyuan town, south of the epicentre of the earthquake which swept central China, burying as many as 900 students and killing at least 50.
It is the worst earthquake in three decades.
The 7.9-magnitude quake devastated a region of small cities and towns set amid steep hills north of Sichuan’s provincial capital of Chengdu.
Striking in the mid-afternoon, it emptied office buildings across the country in Beijing, and could be felt as far away as Vietnam.
The official Xinhua agency reported that 8,533 people have died in Sichuan alone and more than 200 others in three other provinces and the mega-city of Chongqing.
The quake’s epicentre was in Wenchuan, 60 miles north-west of Chengdu.
Photos show people at the Juyuan high school using cranes, mechanical hoists and their hands to remove slabs of concrete and steel.
Xinhua described buried teenagers struggling to break free from the rubble while others were crying out for help.
It added that families waited in the rain near the wreckage, as rescuers wrote the names of the dead on a blackboard.
US President George W Bush said: “I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy,” in a message from the White House.