HOUSTON (AP) - Houston Rockets center Yao Ming said he was ``saddened'' by news of Monday's massive earthquake in China, calling it a ``dark and emotional'' time for his country.
The epicenter of the magnitude 7.9 quake was in the central Sichuan province. Officials said Tuesday the death toll was about 15,000 and expected to climb. The quake triggered landslides, leveled buildings and cracked dams.
Yao was born in Shanghai, on China's eastern coast.
``It is very hard putting into words how difficult it is to see this kind of destruction in Sichuan,'' Yao said in a statement. ``I am very saddened to hear of the large loss of life that has occurred. My thoughts are with everyone back in my home country of China during this very dark and emotional time.''
Yao is currently in Houston, recovering from a broken left foot that sidelined him for the last two months of the season. The Rockets lost to Utah in the first round of the playoffs.
Yao will soon appear in a public service announcement asking for aid for earthquake victims, said Rockets spokesman Nelson Luis.
``Right now, the most important thing we can do is to respond quickly to help those who cannot help themselves,'' Yao said. ``I hope that many others around the world will join us.''
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander pledged financial aid for victims. Alexander has business interests in China and several Rockets have shoe contracts with Chinese companies.
``Over the past several years, we have formed a strong bond with our friends in China and it is very difficult to see them struggling through this tragic event,'' Alexander said in a statement. ``We have already begun the process of reaching out to relief aid agencies and have pledged our financial support to assisting those who have been devastated by this catastrophic event. I know Yao Ming is fully committed to helping the people of China recover from this horrific experience and I will help him in any way I can.''

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