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Update: China quake toll passes 20,000

Breaking Earth News
The full horror of the devastating China earthquake began to emerge today as rescuers discovered whole towns all but wiped off the map, pushing the death toll well above 20,000 and rising by the hour. The message that came back from this mountainous corner of southwestern Sichuan province was that town after town was flattened by the 7.9-magnitude quake that struck two days ago. "Some towns basically have no houses left. They have all been razed to the ground." The destruction around the epicentre in remote Wenchuan county is massive, with whole mountainsides sheared off, highways ripped apart and building after building levelled.

China quake 'worse than expected' - First reports from the epicentre of Monday's earthquake in China's Sichuan province suggest the number of dead could be higher than feared. In Yingxiu, in Wenchuan County, the devastation was worse than expected, as roads were blocked and children buried in debris. Out of the town's population of 10,000, only 2,300 have been found alive after Monday's 7.9 quake. The official death toll is more than 12,000, and looks set to rise sharply. Poor weather has continued to hamper aid efforts, and rescuers have been forced to trek to areas cut off by the quake damage and search through the rubble with their bare hands. An army team in Yingxiu said they could hear cries under the rubble of collapsed buildings. The troops have rescued about 1,000 people in Wenchuan County, but an estimated 60,000 people remain missing. In Juyuan, more than 1,000 people were thought to be trapped in a collapsed school building. China's one child policy means that, for most of the relatives desperately waiting outside, their only offspring is under the rubble. About 18,000 people are reported to be trapped at Beichuan, close to the epicentre. In one city, Mianyang, 18,000 people are said to be buried under the rubble, and in nearby Mianzhu, at least 4,800 are reported trapped. In Shifang, where two chemical plants collapsed, releasing a huge toxic cloud, about 600 people were reported dead and up to 2,300 still buried. People have set up tents or makeshift shelters on almost any piece of open land, even in the middle of road junctions.
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