The European Commission said on Monday, May 12, it was ready to offer China aid after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage to the southwestern province of Sichuan.
The true proportions of the devastation remain unknown
"We are ready to assist if the need arises," European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel said in Brussels.
The commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) was in contact with the International Red Cross Federation in Geneva, and its office in Bangkok had contacted the Chinese Red Cross, according to Michel.
"The initial news from Sichuan is worrying," Michel said. "Actual information is very sketchy but it seems likely that the quake has caused substantial damage over a considerable area, and there are already reports of some loss of life."
At least 8,500 died in Sichuan province and scores died in neighboring regions. The death toll was expected to climb significantly, the reports said.
Germany sends condolences
The eartquake was felt in cities hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent her condolences to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao over the heavy loss of life.
An official statement quoted the chancellor as saying the German government was also ready to provide speedy assistance.
Beichuan county in Sichuan province reported earlier that between 3,000 and 5,000 people were feared dead after the earthquake caused 80 percent of buildings to collapse, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The agency said officials also estimated that about 10,000 people were injured in Beichuan, which is about 100 kilometers (60 miles)from the epicenter of the earthquake.
No reports from the epicenter
A water pipe blew out during the earthquake, flooding the streets of Chengdu
By late Monday evening there were still no reports from Wenchuan county, the nearest town to the epicenter, which has a population of 112,000.
The earthquake struck at 2:28 pm (0628 GMT) in Wenchuan county, and could be felt in cities hundreds of kilometers away, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
At least four teenagers were confirmed dead after the earthquake caused school buildings to collapse and bury nearly 900 students at the Juyuan Middle School in Sichuan's Dujiangyan city, about 100 kilometers from the epicenter, reports said.
One Dujiangyan resident told German news agency DPA by telephone that her five-story apartment block and many other buildings in the city were seriously damaged by the earthquake.
The woman said she and her family were staying outdoors on a playground but had no umbrellas or waterproof jackets to protect them from rain falling on the city.
Thousands of people evacuated buildings in Beijing after the quake
Initial reports put the magnitude at 7.6 but the State Seismological Bureau later upgraded it to 7.8, while an official at the Beijing Seismological Bureau said it was measured at 8.0.
The government declared a "level II" emergency, the second-most serious category, to respond to the earthquake damage.
Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Chengdu and was traveling to Wenchuan to supervise rescue work, urging officials and members of the ruling Communist Party to "work on the front line" to lead relief efforts.
President Hu Jintao also issued a statement urging "all-out efforts to help those affected" by the quake, which was followed by at least six aftershocks measuring 5.0 or higher on the Richter scale.
The People's Liberation Army dispatched 5,000 troops from Chengdu to help in rescue work and damage assessment in Wenchuan.
The central government also organized two military transport planes to carry 184 disaster relief, medical and seismological experts from Beijing to Sichuan.