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. Transport, communications in chaos after China quake

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 12, 2008
Transport and communication networks around China were thrown into chaos Monday after a powerful earthquake struck the country's southwest, killing more than 8,700 people, witnesses and media said.

The 7.8-magnitude quake jolted Wenchuan, a mountainous region in Sichuan province, just before 2.30pm (0630 GMT) on Monday.

The death toll in Sichuan alone came to 8,533 people, according to state-run Xinhua news agency, citing the national disaster relief headquarters.

Thirty-one passenger trains and 149 cargo trains were stranded, Xinhua said.

A cargo train went off the rails and caught fire in a tunnel near Huixian County in northwestern Gansu as the tunnel began to collapse, Xinhua quoted a spokesman for the Ministry of Railways as saying. One man was injured during the incident.

All trains to and from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, were ordered to stop, the Chengdu Business Newspaper reported. Xinhua said earlier that the city's airport was also shut down while engineers assessed the runways.

Air China announced that all its flights to Chengdu had been diverted to other airports, Xinhua reported, and there were delays reported on planes travelling to neighbouring Chongqing, and Xian in the north.

Ten flights in and out of Hong Kong were delayed or cancelled on Monday, with one flight from Paris being diverted to Beijing, officials said.

The communication network went down in Sichuan and other areas after the quake, including Beijing's mobile phone system -- about 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) from the epicentre -- where tremors were felt.

Local communications were also damaged by the earthquake, which cut off fixed line phone services in four counties in Sichuan, and five counties in neighbouring Gansu province, Xinhua quoted one of China's largest mobile service providers as saying.

Key websites on the Internet, including the one belonging to China's Earthquake Department, were inaccessible.

Relatives tried to contact their loved ones in affected areas but struggled to get through.

Jenny Jiang, a travel agent in Shanghai, had been trying to contact her parents, who live about 200 kilometres from the quake epicentre in Wenchuan, for hours when her mother finally managed to send text messages.

"Our house didn't collapse, but some tall buildings did. There are some casualties too, and the communication is basically off, no signal at all," she said in a text message.

Bloggers also complained about the communication problems on the Internet.

"As I was on business in Chongqing, I felt the effect of the earthquake. So I prepared to send information to my friends and relatives, to tell them to be safe, but I just couldn't get through on my mobile," one blogger said on club.chinaren.com, a popular web portal, at 6:00 pm.

"Even now I can't receive calls or call out. I contacted some friends using a fixed telephone, and they said the whole of the mobile network in Chongqing was like that."

People reported feeling tremors as far away as Beijing, Bangkok, and Thailand.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called the earthquake a "major disaster" and urged calm.

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China did not detect deadly quake: report
Beijing (AFP) May 12, 2008
Chinese authorities did not detect any warning signs ahead of Monday's earthquake that killed more than 8,600 people, state media reported.

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