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Death toll in Chinese earthquake 'reaches at least 3,000'

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Between 3,000 and 5,000 people are feared to have lost their lives in a single county in the southwest Sichuan province following a powerful earthquake that hit China on Monday, the Xinhua news agency reported.
BEIJING, May 12 (RIA Novosti) - Between 3,000 and 5,000 people are feared to have lost their lives in a single county in the southwest Sichuan province following a powerful earthquake that hit China on Monday, the Xinhua news agency reported.

It was earlier reported that over 900 schoolchildren had been buried by collapsed buildings as the earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, devastated the province.

The news agency said a three-story school building had partially collapsed in the Sichuan city of Dujiangyan.

"It was around 2:30 pm, and the building suddenly began to rock back and forth," one of the schoolgirls, who managed to rush out of the collapsing school, was quoted as saying.

The Sichuan province has been visited by Premier Wen Jiabao, who was making his way to the epicenter of the quake to coordinate the relief operation. The military is also reported to have been sent to the area.

The U.S. Geological Survey said on its website that the quake struck at 2:28 p.m. local time (06:28 GMT), and that its epicenter was 57 miles (92 km) northwest of Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.

Tremors were also felt some 930 miles (1,500 km) away in the capital, Beijing, where office workers rushed out into the streets as their buildings shook.

A spokesman for the Olympic organizing committee announced that "none of the Olympic sites, including stadiums, the Olympic village or any other sports or non-sports sites have been damaged." Beijing is set to host the Olympic Games this summer.

Chinese national TV reported that further tremors were expected late on Monday, including in Beijing.

"I am afraid we could have a repeat of 1976, when not far from Beijing an earthquake claimed thousands of lives," a resident of the Chinese capital told RIA Novosti, referring to the most deadly earthquake of the 20th century, which destroyed the city of Tangshan, killing at least 240,000 people and badly injuring over 160,000.

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