While official Chinese government reports out of Sichuan Province maintain that no foreign nationals were injured in yesterday's 7.9 magnitude earthquake, the Israeli Embassy in Beijing said on Tuesday that two Israeli students suspected to have been in the area remain missing.

As of midday, the unconfirmed death toll in the quake – the strongest and deadliest to strike China since 1976 – had skyrocketed to 12,000. Rescue crews continued the daunting task of pulling bodies from the rubble, and the Chinese military imposed a clampdown barring entry into the province, some 900 miles from Beijing.

"At this stage, the Chinese forces are working at the earthquake's epicenter," said Israeli embassy spokesman Guy Kivetz.

The official added that communications breakdowns were hampering Israeli Foreign Ministry efforts at locating the two students. According to the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Achronot, the two women were taking courses in Chengdu, a large metropolis some 55 miles from the quake's epicenter. Before the temblor struck, they told friends they were planning to travel in the area, home to some of China's most beautiful mountain scenery.

Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Beijing, a frequent stop for Israeli visitors to China, said that he was getting updates from the embassy.

"I hope that either they were caught in an area without communication due to the earthquake, or they haven't called home because they didn't even know about the earthquake," he said.

"The picture is not clear," added Kivetz. "It is still too early to start searching [in earnest]. We're waiting for more information."

Residents throughout northeastern China appear to be in the same boat, said Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Nussin Rodin, who works with Jewish students in the Beijing area and conducts kosher supervision for factories across the country.

"Nobody really knows what's going on," explained Rodin. "People are going about their business as usual, but there's a definite apprehension. The Chinese media is just starting to report about the sheer magnitude of the disaster."

The Jewish community, he added, was praying for all the victims, as well as for the two missing students.

"People I've been talking to are very shocked," he said.

Freundlich said that one piece of good news is that families of Israeli backpackers were not calling looking for their children – a typical response in the wake of natural disasters. He took it as a sign that Israeli backpackers in the area had already been accounted for.