China Holding 3 Days of Mourning for Quake Victims

May 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
China declared three days of national mourning for earthquake victims and ordered a suspension of the Olympic torch relay, as the search for survivors of the disaster grew bleak Sunday.The State Council said the mourning period would start Monday and include three minutes of silence observed nationwide at 2:28 p.m., the time the quake struck.

Beijing Olympic organizers said in a statement that the torch relay would be suspended "to express our deep mourning to the victims of the earthquake."

The relay already had resumed last week after the quake on a more somber note, with runners starting with a minute of silence and asking for donations along the route. Organizers have said the relay would go on as planned in quake-hit Sichuan province next month.

In the disaster zone, efforts appeared to shift Sunday from searching for buried survivors to clearing corpses from shattered buildings as the government said the confirmed death toll rose to 32,476.

Another 220,109 people suffered injuries, according to a statement from the State Council, China's Cabinet. The government has said it expects the final death toll will surpass 50,000.

Rescuers amputated the legs of a woman to rescue her after six days trapped under a flattened power plant in Yingxiu town, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. A man survived with head injuries after being pulled from a collapsed office building in Maoxian county to the northeast, and was expected to recover.

A "slightly bruised" man also was saved from a collapsed hospital after being trapped for 139 hours, the agency said.

In Beichuan town near the quake's epicenter, few hopeful relatives were seen in Beichuan, where several dozen corpses in blue body bags lay in a street. Soldiers regularly pulled more dead from the wreckage.

"It will soon be too late" to find trapped survivors, said Koji Fujiya, deputy leader of a Japanese rescue team that pulled 10 bodies from a flattened school Sunday. "We hope with our hard work we will find more people alive."

A "slightly bruised" man was pulled out alive from a collapsed hospital Sunday after being trapped for 139 hours, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Experts say buried earthquake survivors can live a week or more, depending on factors including the temperature and whether they have water to drink.

A Malaysian rescue team in the town of Muyu, further north, sifted slowly and methodically through the wreckage. However, they were not tapping on the debris in hopes that survivors would hear and respond as other crews had done earlier ? instead using giant cutters to split steel girders.

Dozens of students were buried in new graves dotting a green hillside overlooking the rubble, the small mounds of dirt failing to block the pungent smell of decay wafting from the ground. Most graves were unmarked, though several had wooden markers with names scribbled on them.

Zhou Bencen, 36, said he raced to the town's middle school after the earthquake, where relatives who arrived earlier had dug out the body of his 13-year-old daughter, Zhou Xiao, crushed on the first floor.

Zhou cradled his wife in his arms, holding her hand and stroking her back while she sobbed hysterically. "Oh God, oh God, why is life so bitter?" Liao Jinju wailed, over and over. The couple's 9-year-old son survived.

More international aid was arriving, with two U.S. Air Force cargo planes loaded with tents, lanterns and 15,000 meals landing Sunday in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu.

The government appealed for more public donations in a live national telethon Sunday evening, where dozens of people dropped envelopes packed with cash into boxes. They wore red heart stickers on their chests labeled "sacrifice of love."

Before the telethon, China had received $1.3 billion in civic donations from home and abroad.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has urged rescue teams to reach remote villages battered by the earthquake where the level of damage remained unknown, according to Xinhua.

That was reinforced by a group of about 15 people who surrounded an Associated Press reporter at a gasoline station in Mianyang city Sunday, appealing for help for their village, Xiushui.

"The government is doing nothing to help us," said one man, who identified himself only by his surname, Chen. "If I gave you my complete name the government would track me down."

Chen did not say how many people lived there. He handed over a note signed "by the people of Xiushui," reading: "Please go to our village of Xiushui to cover the situation. The government is doing nothing to help us get water or housing."

Also in the quake area, three giant pandas were missing from the world's most famous reserve for the endangered animals.

All the pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve were first reported safe Tuesday, but an official with the State Forestry Administration now says three are missing, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday.

Panda houses at the reserve were severely damaged and five staff members there were killed, forestry spokesman Cao Qingyao told Xinhua.

The 60 other giant pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve were safe, according to the agency. The reserve is 18 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake.

Phone calls to the state forestry administration and to the forestry bureau in Sichuan province rang unanswered Sunday night. Fixed phone lines to the reserve remained down. Officials have been able to call the reserve only by satellite phone.

Meanwhile, flood threats from rivers blocked by landslides from the quake appeared to have eased after three waterways near the epicenter overflowed with no problems, Xinhua said. County officials diverted released water as a precaution.

The quake damaged some water projects, such as reservoirs and hydroelectric stations, but no reservoirs had burst, Liu Ning, engineer in chief with the Ministry of Water Resources, told Xinhua.

Nuclear facilities jolted by the quake were confirmed safe and troops were sent to reinforce security there, air force Maj. Gen. Ma Jian, deputy chief of operations for the military's General Staff Headquarters, told reporters in Beijing.

China's nuclear safety agency ordered staff to be on standby in case of an environmental emergency following the quake.

The French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety said China reported "light damage" to unspecified nuclear facilities that were being dismantled before the quake.

Thierry Charles, the group's director of plant safety, said Chinese authorities immediately shut down nuclear sites for inspection. He said China's nuclear safety agency, NNSA, had reported no leaks of radioactivity since the quake.

China has a research reactor, two nuclear fuel production sites and two atomic weapons sites in Sichuan province, the French nuclear watchdog has said, all located 40 to 90 miles from the epicenter.


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