Friday, May 16, 2008

Quake death toll could reach 50,000

Rescue workers carry an earthquake
victim evacuated by boat from Yingxiu
to the Zipingpu Dam as roads are still
inaccessible near Dujiangyan, southwestern
China's Sichuan province, Thursday,
May 15, 2008. China warned the death toll
from this week's earthquake could soar to
50,000, while the government issued a rare
public appeal Thursday for rescue equipment
as it struggled to cope with the disaster.
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

When is an estimate of 50,000 dead good news? When other estimates place the figure at 100,000.

This is a much sadder story when you know something about the make-up of the Chinese relative to death. They accept it as inevitable, but it's to be honored, respected and not with truncated or non-existent rites and burial in pits.

If you've ever seen a Chinese cemetery it would be obvious to you.
Troops dug burial pits in this quake-shattered town and black smoke poured from crematorium chimneys elsewhere in central China as priorities began shifting Thursday from the hunt for survivors to dealing with the dead. Officials said the final toll could more than double to 50,000.

As the massive military-led recovery operation inched farther into regions cut off by Monday's quake, the government sought to enlist the public's help with an appeal for everything from hammers to cranes and, in a turnabout, began accepting foreign aid missions, the first from regional rival Japan.

Millions of survivors left homeless or too terrified to go indoors faced their fourth night under tarpaulins, tents or nothing at all as workers patched roads and cleared debris to reach more outlying towns in the disaster zone.

Health officials said there have been no outbreaks of disease so far, with workers rushing to inoculate survivors against disease, supply them with drinking water, and find ways to dispose of an overwhelming number of corpses.

"There are still bodies in the hills, and pits are being dug to bury them," said Zhao Xiaoli, a nurse in the ruined town of Hanwang. "There's no way to bring them down. It's too dangerous."

Troops in the town of Luoshui in a quake-ravaged area used a mechanical shovel to dig a pit on a hilltop. Two bodies wrapped in white sheets lay beside it. Down the hill sat four mounds of lime.

In a sign of nervousness, 50 troops lined the road outside Luoshui. Five farmers watched them dig the burial pit, after performing brief funerary rites. Local police detained an Associated Press reporter and photographer who took photos of the scene, holding them in a government compound for 3 1/2 hours before releasing them without explanation.

Across the quake zone in Dujiangyan, troops in face masks collected corpses and loaded them onto a flatbed truck. Thick black smoke streamed from the twin chimneys of the town's crematorium.

Fears about damage to a major dam in the quake zone appeared to ease. The Zipingpu dam had reportedly suffered cracks from the disaster, but there was no repair work or extra security at the dam when it was reached Thursday by an AP photographer, indicating the threat to the structure had likely passed.

Note: Headline links to source.



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