China Warns Quake Death Toll Could Reach 80,000

Photo shot in Yingxiu

China warned on May 24 that the death toll from a massive earthquake two weeks ago could take a major leap and pass 80,000, suggesting the government may be giving up hope of finding more survivors.

But rescuers rushed anyway to reach 24 coal miners who officials said were trapped in three mines by the disaster, though it was not known if the miners were alive.

"We have had the miracle in the past that a miner was found alive after being trapped underground for 21 days," Wang Dexue, the deputy chief of the government's work safety department, told a news conference in Beijing. "We are carrying out rescue work on the assumption that they are still alive. We absolutely will not give up."

Wang gave no further details of the trapped miners. China's mines are the world's deadliest, with explosions, cave-ins and floods killing nearly 3,800 people last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a brief visit on the same day to one of the hardest-hit towns, Yingxiu -- a helicopter ride that offered a rare bird's-eye views of the destruction wrought by the 7.9-magnitude quake on May 12.


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