Hungry survivors await help after China quake

Stunned survivors of China's earthquake complained of hunger Friday as the government rushed supplies and personnel into the remote disaster zone high on the Tibetan plateau.

The wail of sirens and stench of death filled the air as relief vehicles thundered into the hard-hit town of Jiegu near the epicentre of Wednesday's quake in Qinghai province.

Thousands of survivors of the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that left 791 dead woke from a second freezing and hungry night without food or shelter.

"I have lost everything," a distraught ethnic Tibetan woman who gave her name as Sonaman told AFP.

Tibetan Buddhist monks gather to watch search and rescue operations underway in Jiegu, Yushu County, on April 16

Wandering the streets with her four-year-old nephew tucked under her coat, Sonaman, 52, said through tears that her mother, father, and sister had died.

"My house has been destroyed. It's been flattened. My family lost 10 people. We have nothing. We have nothing to eat."

The death toll looked set to climb with another 294 people still trapped under rubble in the devastated town.

Premier Wen Jiabao called for all-out efforts to find survivors as he toured the area Friday.

"We will make all-out efforts to build a new Yushu," Wen told victims, according to official Xinhua news agency, a day after exhorting rescuers to step up rescue efforts.

The quake flattened thousands of the mud and wood homes inhabited by ethnic Tibetans, who make up more than 90 percent of the region's people, and also heavily damaged sturdier concrete structures such as schools.

State media said the dead included 103 students and 12 teachers as schools and dormitories collapsed, with dozens more buried or missing.

The casualties recalled the devastating 2008 earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan province, in which thousands of students were among the 87,000 killed or missing in that disaster amid allegations shoddy construction was to blame.

Diggers and other heavy equipment were among the machinery trickling into town but they remained unequal to the scale of the destruction in Jiegu and locals continued to pick frantically through collapsed buildings.

"There are people in here. We have got to find them. We can't stop until we find them," said a Tibetan Buddhist monk, one of several sorting through a pile of rubble in central Jiegu that reeked of the foul stench of dead bodies.

The thousands of rescuers who have made it to the remote mountainous region were battling temperatures that dipped to 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit) as well as a lack of oxygen in the thin atmosphere.

Jiegu's altitude of around 3,600 metres (11,800 feet) could also cause problems for the nearly 11,500 people injured by the quake, reports said.

The China Daily quoted experts saying cold, low-oxygen conditions can make blood vessels constrict, causing injured body parts to die and contributing to kidney failure.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors had already set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

Thousands of soldiers were joining police and other personnel in the effort.

But for many the relief effort was too little, too late.

"I lost my husband and I lost my house," Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent near the collapsed house with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

Officials have assured the public the disaster will be dealt with but warned of delays due to difficulty in reaching the quake-hit area.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Wen postponed a trip to Southeast Asia to deal with the disaster.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was "a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life".

Rescuers and traumatised survivors also were contending with hundreds of aftershocks since the initial quake, including one with a 4.5 magnitude late Thursday.

source AFP

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