Big China quake takes out mobile network in Chengdu

Fixed-line networks in the western Chinese city are still in service

An earthquake registering 7.8 on the Richter Scale knocked out mobile phone service in the western Chinese city of Chengdu, although fixed-line networks remained in service, Chinese state television reported Monday afternoon.

About 2,300 base stations were affected by power outages or transmission problems, China Mobile's Sichuan office told the state-run Xinhua News Agency, adding that repairs were under way. China is the nation's and world's largest mobile service provider.

Service was affected in both southwestern Sichuan province, and in northwestern Shaanxi province, Xinhua reported, although those two areas do not abut. China Mobile also said that call volume had increased by 10 times what is normal but connections were down by half as a result of the earthquake.

China's online video sites were quick to receive footage shot during the earthquake by users, footage that did not appear on CCTV's nightly newscast, which is carried by most major channels. One clip, labeled "Chengdu Earthquake," showed students in a classroom or dormitory room hiding under their desks, as debris falls from the ceiling. "Don't move, don't move, it's ok," the photographer says to a student who emerges from cover too quickly. Footage from Chengdu would also seem to confirm the availability of Internet service there.

The semiconductor industry and China's growing software outsourcing industry take advantage of Chengdu's status as China's fifth-largest city and southwest China's largest academic center.

Although the Chengdu region is not considered a major manufacturing center for semiconductors, Intel began semiconductor manufacturing there in 2005, and employs 600 at a testing and assembly facility in Chengdu.

"We are now determining if this has implications for Intel's operation in Chengdu. Our first priority is the safety of our people," said Danny Cheung, an Intel spokesman based in Singapore, in an e-mail.

Semiconductor Manufacturing International (SMIC) also operates a testing and assembly facility there, according to its Web site. Sources said that SMIC evacuated a fabrication plant and halted production as a result of the quake.

The earthquake occurred at 2:28 p.m. Beijing local time. The State Seismological Bureau (SSB) originally reported the quake registered at 7.6 on the Richter Scale, but later upgraded it to 7.8. The epicenter was approximately 55 kilometers (33 miles) northwest of Chengdu in Wenchuan County. Shaking lasted for approximately one minute, dislodging lights from ceiling fixtures and knocking over water coolers, a reporter told CCTV.

CCTV did not report aftershocks, but the US Geological Service's Web site reported at least 10 by 8:45 p.m. Beijing local time. The quake was felt as far away as coastal Zhejiang province and Beijing. Beijing experienced a separate 3.9 earthquake at 2:35 p.m., the SSB confirmed.

CCTV's first pictures of the event, broadcast at 4:23 p.m. Beijing time, showed people talking on mobile handsets, although it is not known which networks they were using at the time. They showed traffic moving in the street, and a woman with her head bleeding getting into a car. Footage broadcast during the nightly newscast showed visible cracks in some residential buildings, but no collapsed structures or pictures of people injured or killed by the earthquake.

The strength of Monday's 7.8 earthquake equals China's most famous temblor in modern history, a July 1976 event in Tangshan, east of Beijing. Estimated deaths for the Tangshan earthquake range from over 200,000 to more than 700,000.

By the end of the day Monday, 8,533 people were confirmed dead as a result of the earthquake, and as many as 900 children may be buried at a high school in an unspecified location, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

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