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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

China declares 3 days mourning for quake victims

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bai Yushan, second from left, grieves near the branch-covered burial mound of his grandson Tian Chao who died after a school dormitory collapsed following Monday's quake in Muyu, southwestern China's Sichuan province, Sunday, May 18, 2008. Bai Yushan, second from left, grieves near the branch-covered burial mound of his grandson Tian Chao who died after a school dormitory collapsed following Monday's quake in Muyu, southwestern China's Sichuan province, Sunday, May 18, 2008.
NG HAN GUAN / AP Enlarge

BEICHUAN, China - China will spend three days marking the moment when tens of thousands died in a devastating earthquake, while hope of finding more trapped survivors dwindled Sunday and preventing hunger and disease became more pressing.

The government announced an official mourning period starting Monday and asked China's 1.3 billion people to observe three minutes of silence starting at 2:28 p.m. exactly one week after the quake killed an estimated 50,000.

The Olympic torch relay a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to August's much anticipated Beijing games also will be suspended during the mourning period, the organizing committee said.

As the second week of China's worst disaster in a generation approached, the search for anyone left alive in the rubble turned glum despite remarkable survival tales among thousands who were buried.

"It will soon be too late" to find trapped survivors, said Koji Fujiya, deputy leader of a Japanese rescue team working in Beichuan, a town reduced to rubble. His team pulled 10 bodies out of Beichuan's high school Sunday.

The steady run of rescue news flashed by the official Xinhua News Agency has slowed. Just three rescues were reported Sunday, including a woman in Yingxiu town who was reached by soldiers who dug a 15-foot tunnel through the wreckage of a flattened power station and had to amputate both her legs to set free, after 150 hours.

"She was in a delirious state" and told rescuers to leave her alone, thinking she was already in a hospital, Xinhua quoted rescuer Ma Gang as saying. "We fed her milk and water, and her family was there to reassure her."

Dozens of aftershocks have rumbled through the region, extending the damage and fear of survivors. A magnitude 6 temblor on Sunday killed three people, injured more than 1,000 and caused further damage to houses and roads, Xinhua reported.

With more bodies discovered, the confirmed death toll rose to 32,476, the State Council, China's cabinet, reported. The injured numbered more than 220,000.

Many bodies lay by roadsides in body bags or wrapped in plastic sheeting, as authorities struggled to deal with the sheer number of corpses by digging burial pits and working crematoriums overtime.

The World Health Organization warned that shortages of clean water and warmer, humid weather in Sichuan province which bore the brunt of the earthquake were ripe for epidemics. It urged officials not to be distracted by the false belief that corpses were a health threat.

The Health Ministry said no major epidemics or other public health hazards had been reported so far, Xinhua said. Two field hospitals with 400 beds have been set up in isolated areas and medical staff have reached all townships affected by the quake, Xinhua said.

The three-day mourning period starting Monday was the most extensive one the government has ordered since the death 11 years ago of communist patriarch Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the free-market reforms that have brought many Chinese from poverty to moderate prosperity in a generation.

During the mourning period, all national flags at home and at Chinese missions abroad will fly at half-staff, and public recreational activities will be canceled.

Beijing Olympic organizers said in a statement that the torch relay also will be suspended for three days "to express our deep mourning to the victims of the earthquake."

Officials initially resisted changing the relay, which corporate sponsors have paid millions of dollars to fund, though some of the pomp was toned down in recent days. Organizers say the relay will resume in Sichuan next month.

Responding to concerns about nuclear sites in the quake zone, a Chinese military spokesman, air force Maj. Gen. Ma Jian, told reporters Sunday that all nuclear facilities jolted by the quake were confirmed safe.

Though Ma did not elaborate, China has a research reactor, two nuclear fuel production sites and two atomic weapons sites within 90 miles of the quake's epicenter, according to the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.

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.

Worries about possible flooding had sent thousands of people fleeing the day before.

Also in the quake area, three giant pandas were missing from the Wolong Nature Reserve for the endangered animals. Five staff members were killed in the quake, forestry spokesman Cao Qingyao told Xinhua. The 60 other giant pandas at the were safe.

President Hu Jintao continued to tour the destruction for a third day and was surrounded by wailing women at a camp for homeless survivors in Yinghua.

"I know you lost family and property," Hu was quoted by state media as saying. "I share the pain with you. We will try every effort to save your people once there is the slightest hope and possibility."

China also raised the magnitude of last Monday's quake, to 8.0 from 7.8, though it did not give reasons for the reassessment and the U.S. Geological Survey kept its 7.9 measure. A magnitude-8 quake has the equivalent energy of 790 nuclear bombs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Foreign aid continued to arrive, including two U.S. Air Force cargo planes loaded with tents, lanterns and 15,000 meals.

A vast, impromptu humanitarian operation has sprung up among Chinese, with thousands flooding into Sichuan in cars loaded with instant noodles, blankets, clothes and whatever else they could carry.

Chinese people, organizations and companies donated around $1.1 billion for quake relief in the first week after the disaster, Xinhua said. That figure was set to surge after a Sunday night charity gala was broadcast nationally that featured celebrities and dignitaries dumping packets of cash into collection boxes and a tearful appearance of a young girl who survived the quake.



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