Quake effort resumes after panic
Rescue efforts are resuming in Beichuan in China,
after the entire city was evacuated amid fears that it could be engulfed by a
river bursting its banks.
The city was reduced to ruins by Monday’s earthquake, but
efforts are still going on to find and dig survivors from the rubble.
But the search was halted on Saturday as rumours of a
flood saw a stampede of people fleeing to higher ground.
Beichuan is near the epicentre of the quake believed to
have killed 50,000.
On Saturday the number of confirmed deaths rose to
28,881. The Chinese authorities say that about five million people have been
made homeless following the 7.9-magnitude quake.
Several people were dug out of the rubble on Saturday,
including a 31-year-old woman in Deyang city, and a 33-year-old miner in Shifang,
both about 124 hours after being buried.
The region shuddered again as a strong aftershock –
measured by the US Geological Survey at 6.0 – struck at 0108 Sunday local time
(1508 GMT Saturday).
There have been hundreds of aftershocks since Monday’s
quake, some causing landslides which have made conditions even more difficult.
The BBC’s Paul Danahar in Beichuan says after the flood
alert the city went from a scene of rescue and relief into mayhem.
"Everybody just ran – rescuers, army relief teams,
medical workers and locals – and people who were in the process of being rescued
had to be left behind," he said.
"We were in the process of filming a man about to be
pulled out after hours of digging and the rescue team had to abandon him and
The Xinhua news agency warned that a lake, formed by
landslides blocking a river, "may burst its bank at any time".
However, the authorities later said the city was not
under threat from the water.
Our correspondent saw troops returning to the city to
resume the rescue effort, but no civilians.
Those inhabitants who had stayed in the city after the
quake, or had returned to check on their property or search for loved ones,
appeared now to be staying on the surrounding hillsides.
"It is not surprising," he says. "This
entire community has been shaken to its core, they are surrounded by unstable buildings
which threaten to topple at any moment, and the people have been deeply
traumatised by what has happened."
The Chinese government has organised a massive search and
rescue effort. It released figures on Saturday demonstrating the scale of the
It said 198,347 people had been recorded injured, not
just in Sichuan, where the quake struck, but
in Gansu, Shaanxi,
Henan, and Guizhou provinces.
A woman found under the rubble some 124 hours after the
On Friday 26,801 personnel were sent on rescue and relief
missions, while 34,000 medical staff were "in the frontline", it
During the day 2,538 people were recovered from the ruins
– 165 of whom were still alive.
It said some 181,460 tents, 220,000 quilts, and 170,000
cotton-padded garments had been despatched to the disaster area.
Rescue teams from South
have joined Japanese and Taiwanese experts taking part in the massive search.
The specialist teams are equipped with sniffer dogs, and
fibre-optic cameras and heat sensors to detect people buried under the rubble.
But experts say the chances of finding people alive are
diminishing, and increasingly it is dead bodies which are being retrieved.
The authorities have resorted to burying the bodies in
mass graves in an effort to prevent disease.
People in the quake zone are being told to wear face
masks and disinfectant teams are out in force.
The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Chengdu
says that five days on China’s
efforts are now squarely focused on getting help to those who survived the
Rubble from destroyed buildings is being taken away,
streets are being cleared and broken roads repaired.
In some of the worst hit areas, people now have tents,
fresh water, and something to eat.
The authorities said temporary water supplies had been
restored to 70% of quake-hit towns, and that communications and road links were
But in more inaccessible parts of the province, the
authorities are still struggling to get help to survivors.