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China quake toll ‘could reach 50,000’

Posted by maliyye May 16, 2008

By Geoff Dyer in Beijing and Jamil Anderlini in Beichuan County

Published: May 15 2008 14:05 | Last updated: May 15 2008 19:27

The death toll from Monday’s earthquake in China could reach as high as 50,000 people, the State Council said on Thursday, as rescue workers still struggled to reach some of the worst affected areas.

The number of deaths announced so far rose on Thursday to 19,500 in Sichuan province, the centre of the earthquake. However, the sharp escalation in the expected death toll indicates that hopes are fading for the tens of thousands of people who are still buried under collapsed buildings.

Concerns rose about the safety of the many dams in Sichuan after an official at Huaneng Power, one of the country’s largest power producers, said two dams upstream of its hydropower station could collapse “at any time”. The government warned on Wednesday that as many as 391 dams had been damaged by the earthquake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.

“There are many dams in Sichuan province and damage from the quake is extensive and the dangers are unclear,” said water resources minister Chen Lei, in comments published on the ministry’s website on Thursday. He also said it was difficult to find out information from the management of some hydropower stations because of damage to communication systems.

Roads were cleared on Thursday to two of the towns at the centre of the earthquake, Beichuan and Wenchuan. Despite a massive relief effort involving 100,000 soldiers and police, many smaller villages can still only be reached by air and the Chinese authorities are planning to deploy more than a 100 additional helicopters to provide aid to these areas. Survivors from isolated villages have been walking, sometimes for days, to nearby towns in search of food and clean water.

In Taihongcun, a village in Beichuan county, two houses and a few paddy fields were all that remained of the 800-strong community before the quake split the mountain above.“My house is the only one left from our commune,” said Lin Jianyun, 71, through tears. “I’ve come looking for food for me and my wife.”

As the scale of the disaster continues to escalate, the government on Thursday issued a rare public appeal for assistance, asking for donations of rescue equipment including cranes, concrete-cutting tools, body-heat detectors and rubber boats. An extra 50,000 shovels were also required.

The Chinese authorities have also begun to ask for assistance from overseas disaster experts to help the relief effort, having so far only accepted offers of money or supplies.

Japan, which has earthquake recovery expertise, said it was sending two groups of 30 rescue workers to China and they are expected to bring sniffer dogs and heat-sensing equipment.

Taiwan’s Red Cross is sending a team of disaster relief specialists, while the Taiwanese government is also sending a cargo plane of supplies to Sichuan, including tents and medical supplies.

The disaster area is also home to China’s chief nuclear weapons research laboratory in Mianyang, as well as several secretive atomic sites, but no nuclear power stations, Reuters reports.

The China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corp reported that several of its facilities in Sichuan were damaged. It did not mention any radiation leaks.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008



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