The first rescuers have reached the epicentre of the earthquake that has laid waste to swathes of China’s Sichuan province. State media say nearly 12,000 people have died and the number of victims is expected to rise sharply once the worst-hit areas are fully accessed.
As rescuers worked through the night pulling bodies from the rubble and shouting encouragement to those still trapped, heavy rain hampered their efforts. The 7.8 magnitude tremor struck on Monday in the early afternoon and was felt as far away as Beijing and Thailand.
Premier Wen Jiabao has called for urgent efforts to reach area cut off by landslides and boulders, saying the situation was worse than previously thought.
In one city alone 10,000 people were thought to be buried.