An injured student cries while receiving medical treatment near the debris of a collapsed building at Juyuan Middle School after an earthquake in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province May 12, 2008. [Agencies]
"The medical experts are coming, the rescuing planes will land soon," Wen told people crying for help in the school, "I was told many trapped people have hopes to survive from the disaster."
He made a three-time bow to pay his respect to the bodies of the people killed by the quake laid on the school's square, saying that he was very depressed.
Premier Wen told officials at the temporary headquarters for disaster relief in Dujiangyan that roads to Wenchuan should be recovered as soon as possible at all costs.
"The road is the key for the relief work since we can only know the situation there when we can send people and we can only transport the injured out when the road is clean," Wen said.
In Chengdu, the quake crashed telephone networks and hours later left parts of the city of 10 million in darkness.
"We can't get to sleep. We're afraid of the earthquake. We're afraid of all the shaking," said 52-year-old factory worker Huang Ju, who took her ailing, elderly mother out of the Jinjiang District People's Hospital. Outside, Huang sat in a wheelchair wrapped in blankets while her mother, who was ill, slept in a hospital bed next to her.
Rescue workers search for victims in debris in Dujiangyan, Southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008. An earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale jolted nearby Wenchuan County at 14:28 Monday. [Xinhua]
Meawhile, Wenchuan county officials appealed for emergency air drops of tents, food and medicine. "We also need medical workers to save the injured people here," said a county official.
"I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy," US President George W. Bush said in a statement.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge sent his condolences to President Hu Jintao, adding: "The Olympic Movement is at your side, especially during these difficult moments. Our thoughts are with you."
The quake was the deadliest since one in 1976 in the city of Tangshan east of Beijing that killed 240,000, the most devastating in modern history. A 1933 quake near where Monday's struck killed at least 9,000, according to geologists.
Monday's quake occurred on a fault where South Asia pushes against the Eurasian land mass, smashing the Sichuan plain into mountains leading to the Tibetan highlands.
In Chengdu, the region's commercial center, the airport closed for seven hours, reopening only for emergency and a few outbound flights. A major railway line to the northeast was ruptured, stranding about 10,000 passengers, Xinhua said. Although most of the power had been restored by nightfall, phone and Internet service was spotty and some neighborhoods remained without power and water.
Although initially measured at 7.8 magnitude, the US Geological Survey later revised its assessment of the quake to 7.9. Its depth -- about 29 kilometres below the surface, according to the USGS -- gave the tremor such wide impact, geologists said.
The earthquake also rattled buildings in Beijing, causing evacuations of office towers. People ran screaming into the streets in other cities, where many residents said they had never felt an earthquake.
In Beijing, where hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors are expected for the Olympics, stadiums, arenas and other venues for the games were unaffected.