04/22/2013, 00.00
CHINA
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Sichuan quake: growing death toll. Volunteers and Tibetan monks blocked

Over 200 people dead or missing. More than 11 thousand wounded, 900 critically. Landslides block rescue teams with 20km traffic jams. Human rights activists and Tibetan monks stopped by the authorities. Blogosphere slams control of information on internet and moralizing of the Red Cross, hit by scandals. Fears for hydroelectric dams that could flood the earthquake zone.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Rescue teams are making every effort to reach the most remote areas of Sichuan hit by an earthquake two days ago. The death toll has increased: there are 188 dead, 21 missing, 11 thousand injured of which about 1,000 are in serious a condition. The State Council has banned unauthorized groups from travelling to the area for fear of adding to traffic problems.

In the areas of ​​Yaan and Lushan, the epicenter of the earthquake, there are backups of about 20 km making aid distribution difficult. In addition, more than 1,300 aftershocks have caused at least 10 landslides on the roads and the army engaged in rescue operations has had to use dynamite to allow the passage of truckloads of aid and bulldozers to dig through the rubble.

Besides the lack of electricity and communications caused by the collapse of infrastructure, many people complain about not having received tents, food, water. In several villages, the survivors dug with their hands to search for bodies and family buried under the collapsed houses. vehicles carrying water, crackers and noodles and mantou (steamed bread) only arrived this morning in Lushan. The army has begun to build tent cities. In the meantime, many villages have built makeshift shelters, to cover their sleeping children, while adults sleep in the open air.

The Premier Li Keqiang, facing his first experience of an emergency, visited the area a few hours after the earthquake. The next day he visited the wounded in hospitals in Chengdu. He said that the priority is to "save lives", but many accuse Beijing of only allowing news reports that show the government in a good light.

Human rights activists were stopped on the way to Yaan and warned "not to add more problems" to the disaster. Among them,  Huang Qi who in 2008 worked to help the earthquake victims in Sichuan. He was also imprisoned for having obtained "state secrets". In the earthquake of five years ago the authorities were criticized for having built "tofu schools ", without cement and without following quake proof guidelines, resulting in the death of nearly 6 thousand students and children. Two days ago, a group of Tibetan monks of Chengdu tried to reach the area of ​​the earthquake to bring aid, but was blocked by the authorities. Activists fear that the government may slow down the free flow of information on the disaster, only allowing the publication of positive news.

Another point of discussion on the web is the Red Cross fund raising efforts.  The organization was accused of  having hidden billions of Yuan after the 2008earthquake  . Zhao Baige, vice president of the humanitarian organization has promised greater transparency and asked people not to stop aiding their compatriots affected by the earthquake.

The Ministry of Finance has already allocated one billion Yuan for the emergency, shelter for the displaced people, medical care, subsidies for the victims and to repair the damage.

Several countries, including Japan, have offered aid, but China has said that thus far, it does not need help.

Some scientists have warned of the threat posed by the many hydroelectric dams built in Sichuan. In addition to the damage caused by the earthquake, there is a danger of landslides, caused by rain, which could lead to flooding. One of these dams is only 10 km from the epicenter of the earthquake.

The Ministry of Water Resources said that 14 major dams affected by the earthquake are stable, two of medium size ones are damaged; 52 small dams have suffered severe damage. At least 3 thousand engineers and soldiers have been sent to examine the status of hydroelectric reservoirs in the area and to carry out the necessary repairs.

 

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