05/13/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Earthquake in Sichuan: over 10 thousand victims, epicentre still isolated

The Chinese government asks rescue teams to reach Wenchuan – the quake epicentre- by midday today, but one of the first relief workers to arrive in the area tells of a desolated terrain that could hide thousands of dead. The Olympic torch changes route to avoid the devastated province.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The number of victims from yesterdays’ earthquake which hit south west China stands at 10 thousand, but that toll is set to rise steeply: in fact the epicentre has yet to be reached by rescue teams.

The 7.9 magnitude quake rocked the province of Sichuan: the state news agency Xinhua reports that rescue teams are, “working frantically to open roads to ambulances and soldiers from the people’s army, who have been sent into the affected area to bring aid to the people”.

President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao have launched repeated appeals to those working on the round: Not one minute can be wasted, “One minute, one second could mean a person’s life”. Rescue teams were given an ultimatum (midday today local time) to reach the epicentre, localised in the Wenchuan area (a 92 km north east of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan).

The ultimatum has been respected, but one of the first relief workers to arrive in the county on foot has said he is “sceptical” of being able to get relief operations up and running in the area in the immediate term.  Speaking Xinhua, he described having found “a devastated terrain, without even one wall standing, the roads leading here are completely unusable”.

Surrounding provinces also felt the effects of the quake.  In Gansu at least 300 people died, while news of injured and collapsed building are also reported in Chongqing, where most people spent the night sleeping in cars in fear of further seismic activity.

The quake has also changed the plans of the Beijing Olympic committee, which had wanted to bring the Torch through Sichuan from June 15 to 18th.  BOCOG spokesman Zhang Zhaonan confirmed the “changes” to the Olympic symbol’s route “given the extent of the damages”.

 

 

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