A rapid series of strong earthquakes hit a mountainous and impoverished area of China's Qinghai province early Wednesday, killing 589 people, state-run media reported, quoting local quake-relief headquarters.
At least 10,000 others were injured, the Xinhua news agency reported, and many victims, including schoolchildren, were buried under debris. Rescuers were struggling to clear debris with their hands and save those trapped below.
Nearly 60 of the dead were students at several schools in the province, authorities told Xinhua, and more than 50 are trapped in the debris with little chance of rescue. Xinhua reported that 25 students were rescued from a vocational school, and another 23 from a primary school.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake, as measured by the U.S. Geological Survey, struck at 7:49 a.m. local time (7:49 p.m. ET Tuesday), when many residents were still at home and schools were beginning. The USGS also recorded several strong aftershocks - one of magnitude 5.8 - all within hours of the initial quake.
The temblors "have toppled houses, temples, gas stations and electric poles, triggered landslides, damaged roads, cut power supplies and disrupted telecommunications," Xinhua said. "A reservoir was also cracked, where workers are trying to prevent the outflow of water."
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local authorities to "go all out to save the disaster-stricken people," Xinhua said. Vice Premier Hui Liangyu was dispatched to the region.
About 700 soldiers were working to clear rubble and rescue buried quake victims, according to Xinhua. More than 5,000 others, including soldiers and medical workers, were sent to the area, the Qinghai provincial government told reporters in a news conference, Xinhua said.
About 1,000 people have been pulled out alive, China's state-run CCTV reported more than 12 hours after the earthquake. They were taken to one of several locations, chosen based on low probability of aftershocks.