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Heavy snow, sandstorm hinder China quake relief

April 26, 2010

BEIJING, April 24, 2010 (AP) -- Heavy snow and a sandstorm delayed
flights carrying relief supplies and workers to a remote Tibetan region
trying to recover from a devastating earthquake, state media said Sunday.

As the death toll from the April 14 earthquake that flattened tens of
thousands of houses in Yushu county of western China's Qinghai province
rose by 11 to more than 2,200, a senior government official said relief
efforts will shift from searching for survivors to reconstruction and
resettlement.

But the work was hindered over the weekend as all six daily flights
between the provincial capital of Xining and Yushu were delayed, leaving
hundreds of disaster relief workers on their way to the quake zone
stranded in Xining, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

A sandstorm engulfed the Xining airport terminal, covering chairs with
yellow grit, while in Yushu, heavy snow made plane landings dangerous,
the report said.

Saturday was the final day that rescuers would search the quake zone for
survivors still buried under rubble, Xinhua said, and Vice Premier Hui
Liangyu said work would now focus on building temporary shelters,
treating people who were hurt and reconstructing the quake-hit area.

The death toll rose to 2,203 by Saturday evening, while more than 12,000
were injured, Xinhua said. Another 73 people were still missing.

On Saturday, the Chinese government also promised to repair the 87
monasteries that were damaged by the quake, days after monks assisting
in relief work were told to leave the disaster area.

The vast majority of Yushu's residents are Tibetan and most are deeply
devout Buddhists. The area has 238 monasteries with more than 23,000
monks, Xinhua said.

China's communist leadership is wary of Buddhist monks because of their
loyalty to their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing
says has pushed for independence for Tibet. The government decision to
send the crimson-robed monks out of the quake zone raised concerns that
the move was politically motivated.

At the same time, the government appears to be using its full-scale
relief operation to show concern for China's Tibetan communities, some
of which staged anti-government protests in 2008.

The provincial civil affairs bureau said Saturday it would provide 8,000
yuan ($1,170) in subsidies to families for each death from the quake,
according to Xinhua. It would also raise the monthly assistance for
orphaned children, widowed elderly and the disabled to 1,000 yuan per
person, from 600 yuan, for three months, Xinhua said.
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