Aftershock strikes Sichuan

Tremor complicates job of getting aid to hard-hit areas

May 17, 2008|By Mark Magnier | Mark Magnier,Los Angeles Times

DEYANG, China -- A strong aftershock hit China's battered Sichuan region yesterday, causing landslides, knocking out telephone lines and burying vehicles, according to state news media. There were no immediate reports of deaths.

The magnitude 5.5 tremor struck at 1:25 p.m. in Lixian, further complicating the job of getting aid into nearby Wenchuan, the epicenter of Monday's intense quake.

The aftershock, the latest in a series this week, could be felt in Chengdu, a major city 75 miles to the southeast.

"I was using the computer on the second floor when it hit, and jumped up and ran," said Yu Ping, 21, a hotel worker in Chengdu, the provincial capital. "I was so scared, I can still feel it."

Across the quake zone yesterday, rescue teams rushed to isolated mountain villages and previously inaccessible communities, hoping to save those still trapped under the rubble. Several people were reportedly pulled out alive, but after five days most of those recovered were dead.

Sichuan provincial officials put the latest death toll at 22,069, nearly 3,000 higher than the day before, though the national government has said it expects the figure to reach 50,000. The officials also said there were 14,000 people still buried, 159,000 injured and 4.8 million homeless.

But statistics only went so far in portraying the effect. Hospitals were a study in the misery of people injured and homeless.

"I dragged my daughter-in-law outside our house; otherwise she would be dead," said Cui Xiangyu, a 63-year-old farmer, pointing to the woman, whose fingers were smashed and chest badly bruised. Cui, her own leg smashed, was sharing a three-bed room in Deyang People's Hospital No. 2 with the woman and three other patients.

"Our house is completely destroyed, and many in our neighborhood in Xintian died," Cui added. "We even lost our pigs, which were worth $120."

President Hu Jintao flew in yesterday for a first-hand look, visiting Mianyang, about 40 miles from the epicenter of Monday's magnitude 7.9 quake. A sports stadium in the town had become a collection point for refugees from around the region.

"The challenge is still daunting, the task is still arduous and the time pressing," Hu said, according to the New China News Agency.

China has allocated about $5 billion for rescue relief efforts.

After initially refusing to accept experts from abroad, China has welcomed them. Several teams from Russia, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore are expected in the next few days, the Foreign Ministry said, while a team of 60 Japanese rescue workers arrived in Sichuan province early yesterday.

At China's request, the World Food Program said it was sending enough ready-to-eat meals for nearly 120,000 people.

A stream of cavernous army trucks, heavy equipment and private aid headed out of Chengdu yesterday for badly hit Beichuan, about 80 miles north. "Rice dishes from the National Tax Bureau," said the handwritten sign on one white truck.

Moving back to Chengdu as night fell were convoys of ambulances, their blue lights flashing in concert, ferrying the injured to bigger hospitals in the provincial capital.

Among the items in demand, according to local media, were first-aid kits, ready-to-eat meals, tarpaulins, blankets, clothing, flashlights and emergency lanterns.

Aid started to trickle into the epicenter yesterday after the opening of a few roads the day before, allowing military trucks to begin hauling in food and rescue equipment.

Housing Minister Jiang Weixin also said the water supply situation was "extremely serious" in Sichuan, with 20 cities and counties not receiving water.

Yesterday, a rescue team found a survivor and $140,000 in cash in the debris of a collapsed Bank of China branch office in Mianzhu, according to the New China News Agency.

And in a harrowing story from Beichuan reported in the state media, Gong Tianxiu, 40, was discovered alive Thursday in the rubble of another bank after being buried for 73 hours with her right leg caught under a boulder.

With no large-scale equipment available, rescue workers, in order to save her life, passed her a saw that she used to cut off her own leg, allowing her to be rushed by ambulance to a hospital, according to the People's Daily Web site.

Mark Magnier writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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