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China earthquake: Prime minister visits ruins as focus turns to schools

April 16, 2010

Wen Jiabao pledges help as 10,000 rescuers rush to stricken Yushu area
in Qinghai

* Jonathan Watts and Tania Branigan in Jiegu
*, Thursday 15 April 2010 19.38 BST

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, promised support for the
survivors of the country's worst earthquake in two years today as the
death toll exceeded 600.

With more than 300 people missing in Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province,
the authorities dispatched dog teams and heavy lifting equipment to help
rescue workers search for people trapped in the rubble left by
yesterday's 7.1 magnitude quake.

Attention focused on several schools in Jiegu, where 66 students and 10
teachers died. Chinese media and bloggers published images of three
young children in blue school uniforms lying dead on the pavement – a
grim echo of the high casualty rate at poorly constructed schools in
Sichuan in 2008, when a bigger quake killed 87,000 people.

Wen visited the ruins of a retail and residential complex, where
orange-uniformed emergency workers were searching the smoking debris for
three people feared buried when the structure was shaken to the ground.

According to the state media, soldiers pulled almost 1,000 people out of
the wreckage with their bare hands in the first 24 hours after the disaster.

Tashi Taljor, a Yushu resident, said he was woken up by a small
earthquake a few hours before the big one hit, but nobody evacuated.
"Too many people died to count," he said. "All the houses fell down. We
were all inside and we ran out. We were very scared."

The streets of Jiegu are now littered with concrete remnants of modern
structures and the flattened mud and painted wood of traditional Tibetan
buildings. According to the ministry of civil affairs, 15,000 homes have
collapsed, though such a large scale of damage is not immediately
apparent in the town.

China Central Television says 10,000 soldiers, police, firefighters and
medics have flooded into the mainly Tibetan area, which is more than
4,000 metres above sea level. Rescue workers say the remote location and
high altitude have hampered their work.

"It's very ghastly. The whole town has come down," Tashi Tsering told
Associated Press. "Most of the houses are made of wood and mud so they
have totally collapsed to the ground. I'm sure there are some alive
underneath but I don't think there are many of them." Survivors needed
emergency medical supplies, water, sanitation, food and clothing, he added.

Fears about a cracked dam appear to have diminished, but concerns have
grown about the fate of 60 missing monks at Thragu monastery, where many
of the brightly painted roofs were shaken off their columns, leaving
only the main hall intact.

"Only seven or eight of the monks are left alive. All the rest have gone
missing. The rescuers either can't find them or found their bodies,"
Danzeng Qiujiang, a senior cleric at the neighbouring Xiuma monastery,
told reporters.

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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