Beijing (China): The death toll from the earthquake that struck the Qinghai Plateau in Tibet rose to 589 on Thursday morning and more than 10,000 injured.
According to reports filed by Xinhua and The China Daily, Wednesday’s earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale and was said to be the strongest to hit the country in nearly two years.
Reports said that the number of casualties is expected to rise further.
The earthquake struck at 7:49 a.m., and left many people buried under the debris in hardest-hit Yushu, a remote Tibetan autonomous prefecture where the average elevation is around 4,000 meters above sea level.
The quake and a string of aftershocks, the biggest being 6.3 magnitude, toppled houses, temples, gas stations and electric poles, triggered landslides, damaged roads, cut power supplies and disrupted telecommunications. A reservoir also developed cracks, which workers are trying to patch.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have ordered local authorities to spare no effort in search and rescue operations, and in the caring of the victims.
Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu has arrived in the quake-hit region to supervise rescue operations.
Many are still trapped under the debris of collapsed houses in Gyegu town, which is near the epicenter of the earthquake, said Huang Limin, deputy secretary-general of the prefecture government.
Gyegu, or Jiegu, is the seat of the Yushu prefecture government and has a population of 100,000.
Xiao Yuping, the deputy chief of the Yushu education bureau, said a total of 56 students and five teachers were killed, with another 40 students trapped in the rubble.
He said a vocational school suffered most casualties, with 22 students killed, 20 of them girls.
He said half of the school buildings in the prefecture collapsed. But China National Radio quoted a local Red Cross official as saying 70 percent of schools had been destroyed.
Shi Huajie, chief of the armed police force unit in the prefecture, said in the absence of heavy equipment, most rescue workers were using their hands to sift through the rubble looking for survivors.
Over 5,000 additional rescuers, including soldiers and medical workers, have been dispatched to the quake-hit region, according to the Qinghai provincial government.
Authorities in the neighboring provinces of Gansu and Sichuan and the Tibet autonomous region have also sent rescue workers to Yushu.