Beijing (AsiaNews) – Three days of national mourning have been launched by the government in memory of the victims of the devastating Sichuan earthquake. Across China and in its diplomatic missions abroad flags will be flown at half mast. Today at 14.28, exactly a week on from the quake, 3 minutes of silence were observed, sirens and car horns the only sound to be heard. In Tiananmen Square, schools, offices, railway stations, everything cam to a halt. Silence was also observed in the stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen as well as the exchanges in Shanghai, Zhengzhou and Dalian, as well as the zone hit by the quake.
In Tiananmen Square, tens of thousands of people gathered to honour the memory of the victims in a show of patriotism.
All entertainment events were suspended and TV presenters wore dark suits or black armbands as a sign of mourning. Even the Olympic torch relay – currently touring the nation – has been stopped for 3 day.
The national mourning is being marked at a crucial point in relief operations: after a week, hope of finding survivors beneath the rubble is dwindling and it is important to begin focusing on getting vital aid to the living, offering food, medical care and shelter to the millions who have been badly affected by the quake.
Still survivors and families of victims are clinging to the hope of finding their relatives and are terrified at the thought that the search operations may be abandoned, to allow for reconstruction to begin.
According to government data, the death toll now stands at 32,477, but could still climb to at least 50 thousand. Over 220 thousand are injured and circa 5 million homeless.
Once again President Hu Jintao expressed his gratitude for aid that is pouring in from abroad. In the area worst hit by the quake, specialist groups from Japan, Russia, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy and the United States have arrived. But other groups from Britain and Canada have been refused visas. Donations, both national and international have reached over 600 million euro.
Scientists have established that the magnitude of the earthquake that rocked Sichuan reached 8.0 on the Richter scale.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the increasing temperatures in Sichuan, combined with a lack of clean water and sufficient structures for waste in the temporary shelters greatly increase the risk of epidemics.
The Transport Ministry today reported that more than 200 people involved in rescue operations were buried by a mud river over the last three days. Along with them two bulldozers to dig among debris and six trucks were lost.
Over the last few days at least one million survivors in Beichuan, close to the epicentre, were evacuated for fear of being submerged: a lake has formed under persistent rain and combined with the quake debris, has heightened the risk of landslides.