China quake toll likley to touch 50,000

Luoshui, May 15:

China warned the death toll from this week’s earthquake could soar to 50,000, while the government issued a rare public appeal today for rescue equipment as it struggled to cope with the disaster. Rescue workers cleared roads to the epicentre in the race to find survivors.

Over 72 hours after the quake rattled central China, the relief effort appeared to shift from poring through downed buildings for survivors to the grim duty of searching for bodies.

The official death toll reached at least 19,500 in Sichuan province alone where Monday’s quake was centred, vice governor Li Chengyun said in the provincial capital of Chengdu. The figure was up from nearly 15,000 confirmed dead the day before. The State Council, the country’s Cabinet, said the number could rise to some 50,000, state TV reported.

In Luoshui town troops used a mechanical shovel to dig a pit on a hilltop to bury the dead. Police and militia in Dujiangyan pulverised rubble with cranes and backhoes while crews used shovels to pick around larger pieces of debris. After three days trapped under debris, a 22-year-old woman was pulled to safety in Dujiangyan.

“Within 72 hours after the disaster is the critical period. Generally, the sooner the rescue of the buried, the better,” the chief engineer of Shijiazhuang Bureau of Seismology, Liang Guiping, told state TV.

The government appealed to the Chinese public calling for donations of rescue equipment including hammers, shovels, demolition tools and rubber boats. More than 130,000 soldiers and police joined the relief operation, Xinhua said.

“This is only a beginning of this battle, and a long way lies ahead of us,” Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang said. No outbreaks of disease had struck refugees, who were being immunised against some illnesses, Gao said. Workers were seeking to ensure safety of drinking water and removing corpses to prevent the spread of bacteria.

China also accepted an offer from Japan to send a rescue team, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in an announcement posted on the ministry Web site. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued an emergency appeal for medical help, food, water and tents.

Gu Qinghui, the federation’s disaster management director for East Asia who visited Beichuan county near the epicentre, said more than 4 million homes were shattered across the quake area. “The whole county has been destroyed. Basically there is no Beichuan county anymore,” Gu said.

Dam in quake zone has cracks:

Sichuan/Hanwang Town: Thousands of Chinese troops fought to avert further disasters on Wednesday night after “extremely dangerous” cracks appeared in a massive dam, and hydropower stations were said to be badly damaged, after the earthquake.

Xinhua warned that the city of Dujiangyan and much of the Chengdu plain would be swamped, if the Zipingpu hydropower dam burst. As night fell, the government said the structure was safe, but officials warned that two hydropower stations in Maoxian county, near the quake’s epicentre, were damaged.

Landslides had blocked the flow of two rivers in northern Qingchuancounty, forming a huge lake in a region where 1,000 have already died and 700 are buried, Xinhua said. “The rising water could cause mountains to collapse. We desperately need geological experts to carry out tests and fix a rescue plan,” China’s communist party chief Li Hao said. — The Guardian