As rescue efforts continue, Chinese officials are reporting 12,000 people killed by the 7.9 magnitude quake that struck the southwestern region of Sichuan this Monday. The death toll is expected to rise dramatically as rescuers make their way towards the towns at the epicenter of the quake. An estimated 2,000 tourists remain unaccounted for, including two separate groups of 12 Americans and 19 British tourists on a panda-watching tour in Sichuan Province. The earthquake has created transportation problems, with trains and flights to the region being canceled and roads made impassable by a combination of heavy rains, mudslides and debris.
The quake comes less than three months before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics. Chinese officials have already announced that the Beijing Olympic torch relay across the country will be scaled down and, beginning Wednesday, a minute of silence in honor of the victims of the quake will be observed before the relay commences each morning.