Two days after a powerful earthquake hit Sichuan Province in southwestern China, the confirmed death toll nears 15,000 and thousands of people remain trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, according to provincial authorities.

Photos : MSF | Photos from the earthquake disaster, taken by an MSF assessment team in An Xian and Beichuan, China.

Two Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams arrived in Sichuan today, and began an assessment of immediate health needs in An Xian and Beichuan district, approximately 110km and 130km north of the provincial capital Chengdu. Results from the initial assessment indicate urgent needs for shelters, drinking water, and medical material. Most pharmacies in the area were destroyed by the quake, and people are facing a dire shortage of medicines. In Beichuan district alone over 5,000 people are reportedly dead and further 10,000 are still missing.

An MSF team visited another affected area, Pengzhou, located about 40 km north of Chengdu. There were reportedly hundreds of injured people in two towns in the neighbouring Longmen mountains, who were being referred to the local structures. The main urgent needs in Pengzhou are for shelters, drugs, and medical equipment. MSF is also investigating the availability of non-food items in the area such as blankets, jerry cans, plastic sheeting, and chlorine for water disinfection. MSF will continue further assessment, and reinforce its teams on the ground in order to respond rapidly to unmet needs.

MSF has worked in China since 1988. At the time of the earthquake, MSF staff members were working in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region where the organisation has been running an HIV/AIDS treatment programme since 2003. Early 2008, MSF handed over another HIV/AIDS programme in Xiangfan, Hubei Province, to the Chinese authorities.