Officials raise quake death toll in Sichuan Province
CHENGDU, China: On television, the miraculous survivor stories had begun to fade Sunday, replaced by reruns of dramatic rescues. A man who endured 148 hours buried in Yingxiu was rescued and celebrated. Elsewhere, three other people beat the odds, although one survivor later died in the hospital.
But in towns and hamlets across the northern part of Sichuan Province, where thousands of people remain missing, a sense of hopelessness began to set in. Officials in Beijing also announced the start of a three-day mourning period, during which the Olympic torch relay, now being run through mainland China, will be suspended.
Six days after an enormous earthquake devastated the province, officials raised the death toll to 32,476, and said at least 10,000 others were still buried and presumed dead. At least 220,000 others were injured by the quake Monday, and although the authorities have not reported any signs of disease, they are worried that an outbreak could complicate China's largest humanitarian crisis in decades.
In several places, troops carrying tanks of disinfectant on their backs could be seen spraying down workers who had been picking through piles of rubble.
A large aftershock, followed by a pounding rain, brought added misery early Sunday morning. Daybreak brought sun and heat, giving rise to the unmistakable stench of death. In several towns, workers cremated bodies, or piled nameless victims into mass graves, sprinkling them with lime. Families lit incense and wept in front of piles of rubble.
Also on Sunday, officials from the China Seismological Bureau revised the earthquake's magnitude to 8.0 from 7.9. According to the United States Geological Survey, earthquakes of that magnitude are rare, occurring worldwide on average once a year.
There were a few bits of good news on Sunday. Officials said a 70-meter, or 230-foot, high wall of water that had formed behind a landslide on Qingzhu river had subsided, allowing thousands of people who had fled Beichuan to return to their tent and tarp encampments. Officials warned, however, that heavy rain forecast for early in the week could weaken some of the 390 dams that dot the region and threaten thousands of people downstream.
Officials said that more than 21,000 people had been saved from the rubble, including 63 on Saturday, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. In all, 205,000 people have been evacuated from the quake zone. In an indication of the challenges to come, government officials said they were providing 4.8 million people with temporary shelter.
With 10 million people in need of food, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced that Beijing would provide quake survivors with a daily cash allowance of 10 yuan, or $1.40, for at least three months.
Across the steep folds of Sichuan's mountainous north, workers continued clearing avalanches that have left thousands of people without assistance. Roads to Beichuan and Wenchuan, as well a half-dozen villages, were opened over the weekend, allowing caravans of supply trucks to begin moving aide.
On the road into Beichuan, however, many of those who had traveled into the mountains to look for lost relatives were disappointed to find that the police, citing the danger of teetering buildings, would let only aid workers and supplies pass through.
A provincial television station ran an endless ticker along the bottom of the screen listing the names and phone numbers of those seeking relatives, but most of the news channels focused on the volunteers and soldiers who have streamed into the region, survivors expressing their gratitude for assistance and stories about rescued children recovering in the hospital.
More than 200 search-and-rescue experts from neighboring countries have begun working alongside Chinese soldiers and emergency workers. Russia delivered three planeloads of supplies on Saturday, and the United States brought in 15,000 ready-to-eat meals, 655 tents and 2,600 lanterns, according to officials.
In many places, an odd sense of normality began to set in. In Dajiangyan, a city where 10,000 people are thought to have died, excavation machines began loading the remnants of several apartment buildings into dump trucks. In rural areas around Yong An and Shi Fang, farmers could be seen working the fields and threshing wheat a few paces away from the remains of their homes. Along the road, people were replacing plastic shelters with more substantial structures made of salvaged wood.
In Yinhua, a village where 95 percent of the buildings were destroyed, Hong Xianchen and his wife had dragged a cabinet from the pile of rubble. The only other items recovered from their home were a kettle and metal wash basin. "We have no money, so we will have to make do," said Hong, who is a farmer. "Our only hope is that the government will come and help us rebuild."
Edward Wong contributed reporting from Yong An.
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