Thousands of Chinese troops and medical teams have been dispatched to areas of Sichuan province, where the country's worst earthquake in decades struck Monday.

Authorities say the quake killed at least 10,000 people in western China and that thousands are still buried under collapsed buildings.

The state-run Xinhua news agency says an official near the quake's epicenter in Wenchuan county managed to appeal for help using a satellite telephone, nearly 11 hours after the quake cut communications.

Xinhua reports that the official sobbed as he described the devastation and requested that relief supplies be airlifted to the area as soon as possible.

Xinhua also reports that relief teams are headed to the area on foot, but are still nearly 70 kilometers from their destination as of early Tuesday. There is still little information on the scale of the destruction in Wenchuan county, home to more than 100-thousand people. Xinhua says storms have prevented military rescue helicopters from reaching the site.

Nearly 100 kilometers away in the city of Dujiangyan, Xinhua says rescue workers pulled 60 bodies from a collapsed school where 900 students are believed to have been trapped.

Speaking from a disaster headquarters in Dujiangyan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told state media it is essential that the road to Wenchuan be cleared because delays will cause more lives to be lost.

Xinhua says nearly 10,000 people are feared dead in Sichuan province alone, and more than 200 in three other provinces and the city of Chongqing.

Authorities estimate that at least five thousand people died in Sichuan's Beichuan county. Local officials say at least 80 percent of the buildings there have collapsed, and 10-thousand more people are feared injured. Beichuan is about 160 kilometers north of Sichuan's capital, Chengdu.

Thousands of people in Chengdu slept outside overnight in fear of aftershocks and collapsing buildings.

Two chemical plants in Sichuan also have been damaged, burying hundreds of people and forcing the evacuation of several thousand others.

The United States and the United Nations have offered condolences to victims of the tragedy, and both say they are willing to help in any way possible.

The 7.8 magnitude quake hit in the afternoon local time or 0628 UTC Monday and was felt as far away as Taiwan and Bangkok.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.