Tuesday, May 20, 2008
DUJIANGYAN, China - From the heart of Beijing to the devastated southwest, China came to a standstill Monday to mourn its earthquake victims as the number of dead, missing or buried soared past 71,000.
Air sirens wailed across the country as most motorists stopped and blared their horns, bringing a halt to China's usually bustling big cities for three minutes from 2:28 pm (0628 GMT), the moment the quake struck a week ago.
Thousands of people, many of them university students, converged on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, holding up flags and chanting slogans of support for the victims.
As the five-star national flag flew at half-mast in front of the portrait of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, the crowd in the giant square chanted "Long live China!" while punching the air with their fists.
Trading halted for three minutes on China's stock markets and a moment of silence was also held at casinos in the southern gambling haven of Macau.
The last time the world's most populous nation held official mourning was when Mao, the founder of the communist state, died in 1976.
In the town of Dujiangyan, 60 relatives of dead children held candles and incense at one of the thousands of schools flattened in Sichuan province.
One mother who lost both her daughters, Qiqi and Jiajia, collapsed in front of the school building.
"This is unbearable. I lost you both," she wailed.
The official grieving came as mudslides and a fresh aftershock hampered efforts to help the nearly five million people made homeless by the May 12 disaster.
The transport ministry reported that mudslides had buried more than 200 relief workers over the past several days, with no word on how many were dead or alive.
The government last week estimated more than 50,000 people died in the quake -- which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale -- that reduced towns to heaps of steel and concrete.
But that number appeared to be a large underestimate.
The top leader in Sichuan, Communist party chief Liu Qibao, put the toll of people confirmed killed in that province at 32,173, adding 9,509 people remained buried and 29,418 others were missing -- a combined 71,100 people.
A central government spokesman on Monday put the confirmed death toll nationwide at 34,073.
Hopes that more survivors would be found were fading, although rescue teams pulled out two women and one man on Monday, according to state-run media.
The man, aged in his 80s, had survived under a collapsed house for more than 160 hours.
"The quake happened so long before that villagers all thought this old person was no longer there," army officer Qiu Chengliang, one of the man's rescuers, was quoted as saying by state TV. "His leg was severed but he still doggedly clung to life."
But one of the women found under a collapsed residential building near Deyang city later died despite receiving medical care, CCTV reported.
The earthquake has triggered an outpouring of emotion in the country of 1.3 billion people, with thousands offering to volunteer or to care for children made orphans.
The relay of the Beijing Olympic torch -- which has generated excitement across China in the run-up to the August Games -- was called off for three days.
The government also pulled entertainment programmes off television for three days. In Beijing and Shanghai, authorities ordered cinemas, karaoke bars and other leisure establishments to cease operation.
Donors at home and abroad have pitched in 10.834 billion yuan (1.55 billion dollars) to help with rescue efforts, according to Xinhua.
But more assistance was needed, with China's foreign ministry issuing an urgent appeal for tents.
China also said it would open its borders to foreign medical teams after letting in foreign rescuers. Japan immediately said it would send 20 medics.
The United States would provide China with satellite imagery of reservoirs, roads and bridges damaged in the earthquake, the Pentagon announced.
Heavy rain was expected later this week in the disaster zone, compounding the misery for survivors.
Premier Wen Jiabao ordered troops to step up their rescue work. Soldiers must "overcome all difficulties and make sure to go into all villages within 24 hours," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
The chief engineer at the State Electricity Regulatory Commission said that several dams damaged by the quake were under 24-hour watch for signs of collapse and may not be able to withstand strong aftershocks or flooding. - AFP/ir
News Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/348702/1/.html