UPDATE I/WS 11:02AM
More updates will follow, bumping older information.
A massive earthquake struck central China on Monday, killing more than 7,000 people in one province alone and trapping nearly 900 students under the rubble of their school, raising fears the overall death toll could increase sharply.
The official Xinhua News Agency said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Beichuan county and that another 10,000 people were believed hurt there.
The epicenter of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake was in Sichuan, striking 57 miles northwest of the provincial capital of Chengdu. It hit in the middle of the afternoon — when classes and offices were full.
Xinhua, citing a provincial official, said the quake killed 7,651 people in Sichuan alone.
Thousands of soldiers and police have been dispatched to the epicenter in Wenchuan county, about 60 miles away from Beichuan, which has a population of 160,000.
Update II/BG/1:10 PM
The People's Daily Online is reporting that the devastation and destruction are horrendous. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has arrived in Chengou and is en route to the epicenter to direct relief and rescue operations, and the PLA has responded as well.
The Chengdu Military Area Command has dispatched troops to help with disaster relief work in the earthquake-stricken area, military sources said.
Tian Yixiang, officer with the emergency office of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), said the troops will assist local government in Wenchuan county to gauge the current situation and to help with disaster relief work.
I want to take the opportunity here to say that our hearts are with the Chinese people who are suffering the devastation of this natural disaster. We have been critical of the Chinese government on this blog, but that criticism does not negate our humanity. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the people affected by this tragedy as fellow human beings.