The worst earthquake to hit China in more 30 years has claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people. Schools, factories, houses and a hospital in the southwestern province of Sichuan have been destroyed and the number of victims is expected to climb still further.
Close to the epicentre, around 80 per cent of the buildings are in ruins.
The quake, which measured 7.8, struck around 100 kilometres north of the provincial capital, Chengdu, but tremors were felt as far away as Thailand and Vietnam.
Describing the quake as a “major disaster”, Premier Wen Jiabao has flown to the area and the president has ordered an “all-out” rescue effort.
The tremor destroyed at least eight schools, burying hundreds of children. About 900 teenagers were trapped in the rubble of one three-storey building.
With thousands of homes destroyed or unsafe, many are spending the night on the streets.
But nightfall, severed communications and blocked roads have hampered rescue efforts in the worst hit areas and the full picture is not yet apparent.