7.9 quake stuns Chinese tech region

Major earthquake strikes Sichuan region, killing more than 8,500 people, according to press reports. Motorola reports minor injuries and damage to Chengdu facility.

Dawn Kawamoto Former Staff writer, CNET News
Dawn Kawamoto covered enterprise security and financial news relating to technology for CNET News.
Dawn Kawamoto
4 min read

Update at 1:50 p.m. PDT: Comment from Microsoft on minor damage from earthquake.

A massive earthquake struck Western China on Monday, killing more than 8,500 people and trapping more than 900 students in a high school, according to press reports.

The quake, which had a 7.9 magnitude, was centered in a mountainous region of the country in the Sichuan Province, according to The New York Times.

The epicenter was about 55 miles northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan--one of the country's most populated provinces. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake struck at about 2:30 p.m. local time Monday in China--or 11:28 p.m. PDT Sunday.

Although the earthquake was initially rated as a 7.8 magnitude, the USGS later updated it to 7.9 after a further review of the data.

Motorola, which operates a facility in Chengdu, reported minor injuries to two of its employees during the evacuation. The cellular phone maker employs approximately 400 workers in the region, who largely are involved with engineering for Motorola's enterprise business, according to a company statement.

Motorola's facility also sustained minor damage during the earthquake, but the company does not anticipate an affect on its business as a result.

"Motorola expresses its deepest sympathy and condolences to all of those affected by the earthquake," the company said in a statement.

Microsoft's Chengdu building also received minor structural damage, but its offices will remain open, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the Redmond giant's employees in Chengdu and in Beijing are all "safe and accounted for," she added.

The software giant will be working with its China subsidiary to gather further information about its employees in other locations.

Chengdu has attracted tech companies in part through its High-Tech Industrial Development Zone. According to the Chengdu Invest site, the zone has attracted a huge number of domestic and foreign tech companies including IBM, Symantec, Microsoft, Intel, Fujitsu, NEC, Motorola, and Nokia.

Five years ago, Intel announced an investment of $200 million in a Chengdu center focused on chip testing and assembling.

On Monday, Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said none of its employees in Chengdu were injured, nor was its facility damaged.

The chip giant immediately evacuated its roughly 2,000 workers from the plant when the earthquake struck, Mulloy said.

The plant has no power or water, and is currently running on backup power. Intel hopes to have the center running again by Wednesday.

"We are geographically diverse, so there is no near-term impact to the business," Mulloy said.

He added that no product is exclusively tested and assembled at the Chengdu plant. The site focuses on microprocessors, chipsets, and communications chips.

The city hosted the first leg of the 13th International IC-China Conference & Exhibition in February. According to EETimes Asia, this marked Chengdu's first time hosting the semiconductor event.

Chengdu is also set to host the World Cyber Games' grand finals, one of the largest global video game tournaments--if not the largest--in 2009.

Accounts of the earthquake came fast and furious. Graham Webster, a member of the CNET Blog Network, twittered: "13 seismic events above 4.9 measured since the first quake, reports USGS."

The USGS, which tracks earthquakes around the world, reported that the 7.8 earthquake had a depth of 6.2 miles.

Other bloggers, such as Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC news blog, offered commentary on whether news of the earthquake via Twitter marks its coming of age as the platform for truly real-time news.

Beijing, which is approximately 950 miles from the epicenter, also felt the effects of the earthquake, but it was a "quiet rolling sensation," according to a CNN report. The news agency noted that the earthquake was also felt in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Taiwan--and as far as Vietnam and Bangkok.

Sina.com, one of China's most popular sites, featured photos that appear to be related to Monday's earthquake.

As part of its pre-Olympics coverage, NPR has planted journalists in Chengdu. Their coverage, until now, has focused on the culture of the thriving city.

Nokia was also affected by the earthquake, said Laurie Armstrong, a company spokeswoman.

The mobile-device and services company evacuated a sales office in Chengdu, which had fewer than 40 employees, Armstrong said. She added that there were no reports of injuries among the employees.

Some Nokia employees, however, were traveling in the region affected by the earthquake. The company is still attempting to locate them. Armstrong noted that it may be a little premature to determine the effect of the earthquake on Nokia's business.

And while the cell phone maker's Beijing office was not affected, the company sent employees home early to allow them to connect with family members, Armstrong said. "We will continue monitoring the situation and will always put the safety of our people first."

IBM, which employs 13,000 people throughout China, primarily has sales offices in the region that was affected by the earthquake, an IBM spokesman said. Big Blue received no reports of injury to its employees nor damage to its facilities.