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Published: Wednesday, 5/14/2008

China says troops rush to plug dangerous cracks in dam

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dead bodies are seen beside the collapsed houses at the earthquake-affected Puyang Township in Dujiangyan of southwest China's Sichuan province Tuesday. 
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HANWANG, China - Thousands of Chinese soldiers rushed on Wednesday to repair a dam badly cracked by the country's massive earthquake, while rescuers arrived for the first time in the epicenter of the disaster.

China's top economic planning body said that the quake had damaged 391 mostly small dams. It left "extremely dangerous" cracks in the Zipingpu Dam upriver from the earthquake-hit city of Dujiangyan and some 2,000 soldiers were sent to repair the damage, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua said Dujiangyan would be "swamped" if major problems emerged at the dam.

He Biao, the director of the Aba Disaster Relief headquarters in northern Sichuan province, said there were also concerns over dams closer to the epicenter.

"Currently, the most dangerous problems are several reservoirs near Wenchuan," he said, according to a transcript on the CCTV Web site.

"There are already serious problems with the Tulong Reservoir on the Min River. It may collapse. If that happens, it would affect several power plants below and be extremely dangerous," he said.

Rescuers who hiked in to the epicenter scoured flattened mountain villages for thousands of missing and buried victims, and the death toll of nearly 15,000 appeared likely to soar far higher.

Help also began to arrive helicopter in some of the hardest-to-reach areas, where some victims trapped for more than two days under collapsed buildings were still being pulled out alive. But the enormous scale of the devastation meant that resources were stretched thin, and makeshift aid stations and refugee centers were springing up over the disaster area the size of Belgium.

Leveled hospitals forced doctors and nurses to treat survivors in the street. Helicopters dropped food and medicine to isolated towns. Mourners burned money before rows of bodies, believing their lost relatives could use it in the afterlife.

Xinhua quoted government officials as saying rescuers who hiked Wednesday into the city of Yingxiu in Wenchuan county the epicenter of the quake found only 2,300 survivors in the town of about 10,000, with another 1,000 badly hurt.

The official death toll rose Wednesday to 14,866, Xinhua said, but it was not immediately clear if that number included the 7,700 reported dead in Yingxiu. In Sichuan province alone, another 25,788 people were buried and 1,405 were missing, provincial vice governor Li Chengyun said, according to Xinhua.

Twelve Americans were found safe near the epicenter of the quake.

A spokeswoman for the World Wildlife Fund said the 12 members of the wildlife group were reached by satellite phone earlier in the day. The team was near the world's most famous panda preserve in Wolong, whose pandas were reported safe Tuesday.

Unlike previous natural disasters in China, official media have reported prominently on the quake and state TV canceled regular programming to run 24-hour coverage.

Scenes of destruction and death have been shown, along with prominent focus on Premier Wen Jiabao, who rushed Monday to Sichuan to oversee the rescue work. He has been shown crawling into collapsed buildings to urge survivors to hang on with impassioned pleas, and seen reassuring children who had lost parents.

Wen was there when one 3-year-old girl trapped for more than 40 hours under the bodies of her parents was pulled to safety Wednesday in Beichuan region, Xinhua said.

Rescuers found Song Xinyi on Tuesday morning, but were unable to pull her out right away due to fears the debris above her would collapse. She was fed and shielded from the rain until rescuers extricated her from the rubble.

Elsewhere, a 34-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant was rescued after spending 50 hours under debris in Dujiangyan.

"It's a miracle brought about by us all working together," said Sun Guoli, fire chief of the nearby provincial capital Chengdu, who supervised the rescue.

The show of official empathy was aimed at reassuring the public about the government's response and also showing the world the country is ready to host the Beijing Olympics in August. Wednesday's leg of the Olympic torch relay in the southeastern city of Ruijin began with a minute of silence.

President Hu Jintao presided over an emergency meeting of the Communist Party's highest body Wednesday, the second such meeting since the quake happened. Hu, also secretary-general of the party, urged the military, police and others to rush to the disaster area to help.

The death toll from the quake was expected to rise when rescuers reach other towns in Wenchuan county that remained cut off.

"The Communist Party Central Committee has not forgotten this place," Wen said after flying by helicopter to Wenchuan, adding that some 50 injured people had been airlifted from the area.

Relief efforts were aided in their third day by the clearing of storms that had prevented flights over some of the worst-hit towns. Military helicopters seen flying north over Dujiangyan, and Xinhua said some had airdropped food, drinking water and medicine to Yingxiu.

East of the epicenter in the town of Hanwang, the smell of incense hung over a crowd of sobbing relatives who walked among some 60 bodies wrapped in plastic, some covered with tributes of branches or flowers.

Nearby, rescuers carried more bodies out of a makeshift morgue at the Dongqi sports arena. People from the town and surrounding areas packed into blue tents provided by relief officials. A Western-style clock tower in the town center had stopped at 2:27 the time the quake hit.

The Mianzhu No. 3 Hospital was obliterated, and the seven-story main Hanwang Hospital collapsed. Surviving medical staff set up a triage center in the driveway of a tire factory, but could only provide basic care.

"The first day hundreds of kids died when a school collapsed. The rest who came in had serious injuries. There was so little we could do for them," said Zhao Xiaoli, a nurse at Hanwang Hospital.

Emergency vehicle sirens sounded every few minutes. An ambulance drove in, delivering a man pulled from the rubble and covered in dust.

"There will be a lot more people. So many still haven't been found," said Zhao.

Disorienting episodes added to the struggle for survival in much of the disaster zone. The Mianyang city government ordered its 700,000 residents to evacuate all buildings between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. because an aftershock was predicted.

In Chengdu, water to some parts of the city was cut for repairs, touching off a rumor that the supply was contaminated. People began hoarding water and water pressure citywide dropped before a senior official went on TV to deny anything was wrong.

(From earlier editions of toledoblade.com)

HANWANG, China - Military helicopters dropped food and medicine to Chinese earthquake survivors who remained cut off Wednesday in remote mountain villages behind roads clogged by landslides. The official death toll rose to nearly 15,000, and tens of thousands more were feared buried or missing.

As help began to arrive in some of the hardest-to-reach areas, some victims trapped for more than two days under collapsed buildings were still being pulled out alive. But the enormous scale of the devastation meant that resources were stretched thin, and makeshift aid stations and refugee centers were springing up over the disaster area the size of Maryland.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted government officials as saying rescuers who hiked Wednesday into the city of Yingxiu in Wenchuan county the epicenter of Monday's magnitude 7.9 quake found it "much worse than expected."

The official death toll rose Wednesday to 14,866, Xinhua said, but it was not immediately clear if that number included the 7,700 reported dead in Yingxiu. In Sichuan province alone, another 25,788 people were buried and 14,051 missing, provincial vice governor Li Chengyun said, according to Xinhua.

The toll was expected to rise further once rescuers reach other towns in Wenchuan that remain cut off from the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu more than two days after the quake. Roads leading to Wenchuan from all directions were still being cleared of debris, Feng Zhenglin, deputy minister of railway and transportation, said in Beijing.

The death toll for Mianyang city was also confirmed at 5,430, up from 3,629, on Wednesday, Xinhua said, with more than 18,000 people there still thought to be buried under crushed buildings.

At a middle school Sichuan province's Qingchuan county where students were taking a noon nap when the quake demolished a three-story building, 178 children were confirmed dead in the rubble and another 23 remained missing, Xinhua said.

Storms that had prevented flights to some of the worst-hit areas finally cleared on Wednesday. Military helicopters were seen flying north over Dujiangyan, and Xinhua said two of them airdropped food, drinking water and medicine to Yingxiu.

Trains were on their way to Sichuan carrying quilts, drinking water, tents and military personnel, Ministry of Railways spokesman Wong Yongping said. All railways in the province were working except for a line where a 40-car freight train was trapped by a landslide in a tunnel and burned, he said.

Rescuers raced to save people trapped under flattened buildings.

A 34-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant was rescued after spending 50 hours under debris in Dujiangyan.

In the Beichuan region, a 3-year-old girl who was trapped for more than 40 hours under the bodies of her parents was pulled to safety, Xinhua said.

Rescuers found Song Xinyi on Tuesday morning, but were unable to pull her out right away due to fears the debris above her would collapse. She was fed and shielded from the rain until rescuers extricated her from the rubble.

Premier Wen Jiabao looked over her wounds, part of his highly publicized tour of the disaster area aimed at reassuring the public about the government's response and to show the world that the country is ready to host the Beijing Olympics in August. Wednesday's leg of the Olympic torch relay in the southeastern city of Ruijin began with a minute of silence.

Wen said some 100,000 troops and police had been dispatched to the disaster zone. He also visited a school Wednesday in Beichuan where two classroom buildings collapsed in the earthquake, including a school with 2,000 students that state TV said sustained "heavy casualties."

East of the epicenter in the town of Hanwang, the smell of incense hung over a crowd of sobbing relatives who walked among some 60 bodies wrapped in plastic, some covered with tributes of branches or flowers.

Nearby, rescuers in blue uniforms carried more bodies out of a makeshift morgue at the Dongqi sports arena. The dead appeared to have come from heavily damaged apartments and a school behind the arena, where people stood in stunned shock.

People from the town and surrounding areas packed into blue tents provided by disaster relief officials. A clock tower in the town center had stopped at 2:27, the time the quake hit.

The Mianzhu No. 3 Hospital was obliterated, and the seven-story main Hanwang Hospital collapsed, its third floor suddenly smashing to the ground. People on the upper floors climbed out on bed sheets tied together.

Surviving medical staff set up a triage center in the driveway of a tire factory, but could only provide basic care.

"The first day hundreds of kids died when a school collapsed. The rest who came in had serious injuries. There was so little we could do for them," said Zhao Xiaoli, a nurse at Hanwang Hospital, who described herself as "numb."

Emergency vehicle sirens sounded every few minutes. An ambulance drove in, delivering a man pulled from the rubble and covered in dust.

"There will be a lot more people. So many still haven't been found," said Zhao.

Residents complained that delays in aid had caused more deaths in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

Zhang Chuanlin, a 27-year-old factory worker, said his 52-year-old mother was trapped while watching television with her friend. No rescue workers were around so he started to dig by himself.

"No one was helping me and then two strangers came and dug through the rubble. They found her an hour later," he said. "When they pulled her out I couldn't look, I just couldn't look when they pulled her out."

A man who gave only his surname Li said he had suffered a double tragedy. His wife was killed while watching TV with Zhang's mother and his daughter died when her school collapsed.

The child did not die right away and could be heard saying, "Please help me daddy, please rescue me," right after the earthquake, he said, but there were no authorities to save her.

In Dujiangyan, a mother pleaded with police for information about her husband who was working in Wenchuan, blocking one of the few roads leading to the epicenter.

"I've begged and begged them to help me look for my husband," Li Zhenhua said, showing her husbands ID card to a crowd of onlookers. "I can't go by myself because I've got a little baby and elderly parents here, so I can't leave."

"The government is doing nothing for us. The government won't help us," she said, over and over.



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