China quake death toll nears 2,000

By Royston Chan

YUSHU, China (BestGrowthStock) – The official death toll from an earthquake on China’s remote Tibetan plateau last week reached 1,944 on Monday, but rescuers dug out two more survivors who had been trapped under rubble for more than 100 hours.

Another 216 people are listed as missing after the quake struck last Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency said, though rescue operations across the ruined town of Gyegu in Qinghai province’s Yushu country were being scaled down as the focus shifted to aid distribution.

Tents, food and water were being delivered to quake victims across the county seat of Gyegu, as well as further into the mountainous region.

President Hu Jintao flew to Yushu over the weekend to comfort survivors and examine relief distribution. Hu vowed to rebuild homes and schools, and urged continued efforts to save anyone still alive under the crumpled remains of buildings.

In a rare moment of hope, rescuers pulled two people alive from a wrecked building after spending 123 hours trapped in the rubble, state television said.

Taiwan’s Red Cross Society sent a 20-person medical relief team to Qinghai on Sunday to help quake survivors with expertise and supplies, a Red Cross official said on Monday.

Many tents have been set up in the open areas of the city, including Gyegu’s main square, a sports ground and a horse-racing track. Military troops and Buddhist monks are providing meals for the victims and medical teams are on hand.

“We hope they (the government) can provide us food and clothes,” said Suona Jiaxi, an ethnic Tibetan like the vast majority of people in Yushu.

“If the government can take care of us, then we can live a little better than before,” the 33-year-old said.

The harsh conditions on the Tibetan plateau — Gyegu is about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level — mean reconstruction is urgent. Temperatures drop below freezing at night and strong winds are frequent. Cold, snowy weather is forecast for the next few days.

In heavily Tibetan neighborhoods of town, some quake survivors said they still largely had to fend for themselves, gathering food and water and building their own makeshift tents.

Han Chinese quake survivor, Zhang Zhaojun, who is married to a Tibetan woman, said government aid had been sporadic.

The 30-year-old said his family had only received a tent on Sunday. Earning less than a thousand yuan a month by gathering and selling Tibetan herbs, he sees a bleak future for him and his neighbors.

“Life would be very difficult. All the houses here have collapsed and we don’t have any economic means to support ourselves. We have nothing. It is going to be very difficult for us,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Huang Yan and Liu Zhen in BEIJING; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

China quake death toll nears 2,000