China: death toll could rise to 50,000

Chinese authorities say the death toll could rise to 20,000 to 50, 000, three days after a massive eathquake hit the country's southwest region.



Chinese authorities said Thursday the death toll could rise from 20,000 to 50,000 people, three days after a massive earthquake wrecked havoc across the country’s southwest region.


"The deaths are estimated to be over 50,000," state television said, quoting the national quake relief headquarters, which also confirmed 19,509 deaths.


China finally opened its doors to foreign aid workers Thursday, when a team of 31 Japanese rescue workers arrived in the hard-hit Sichuan province.





Damaged dams raise concern


Damage to hydro-electric dams in China’s devastated Sichuan region is causing major concern for local authorities.


Officials say up 400 dams, including two major structures, were affected by the quake.

“Highly dangerous” cracks were reported on the Zipingpu dam in Sichuan province, a mammoth edifice overlooking the city of Dujiangyan, home to over half-a-million people.

The Chinese government said it had already drawn up evacuation plans in the event of further damage to the hydro-electric structures.

Humanitarian aid trickles through

According to our special correspondent Sébastien Le Belzic, aid is still only trickling through to the cities devastated by the earthquake.

In Dujiangyan, close to the quake’s epicentre, “tens of thousands of people still sleep in the open,” he reported, adding that new after-shocks had unleashed waves of panic.

Chinese military deployed 130,000 troops to carry out rescue and relief operations. On Thursday, the air force dropped 50,000 parcels containing food, clothing, blankets and first-aid material on the stricken areas.


Foreign aid arriving

As chances of finding survivors grow slimmer by the hour, Chinese authorities have finally begun accepting foreign aid. Indeed, some thirty aid workers from old foe Japan are already on their way to Sichuan province.

“We are short of just about everything here,” explains Sébastien Le Belzic after visiting an emergency hospital in bad need of medication, blankets and fuel.

A French aircraft carrying medication, tents and blankets is expected on Friday, while a Russian plan laden with first-aid material has already landed in the province’s capital Chengdu.  

Meanwhile, the Chinese government issued an urgent call on the population to collect tools, as most rescue teams dig through the rubble with bare hands.


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