Number of earthquake victims continues to rise: over 12,000
According to official data, there have been more than 12,000 fatalities, while 18,000 people are believed to be buried alive in Mianyang alone. Local priests confirm to AsiaNews: people living in the streets, communications interrupted, fear everywhere. The diocese of Hong Kong launches a fund-raising drive for the survivors.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - More than 12,000 confirmed victims.  But the number of deaths continues to rise inexorably after the disastrous earthquake - which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale - that struck southwestern China yesterday.  According to CCTV 4 - a national television station - at least 8,000 people are buried alive beneath the rubble in Mianyang, a few kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake.

From the cathedral of Chengdu - the capital of the province of Sichuan, one of the areas hardest hit by the quake - assistant pastor Fr Ren Shaoqian tells AsiaNews: "Not much damage occurred in the city.  No news is available from Wenchuan (the epicenter of the earthquake, where there are very few Catholics): the telephone lines are down, and there is no way of communicating.  We get our news from the television".

A priest of the parish of Boning, in Mianyang, says: "Here there was not much damage, but at the moment of the earthquake the buildings shook for three or four minutes.  Now it is raining, the people are in aid tents on the streets, because they are afraid of aftershocks.  Small tremors are continuing, and we are afraid that something might collapse.  Moreover, there is no way to see beneath the rubble, which might hide thousands of dead".

Twenty kilometres from there, he adds, "there is a school attended by many children.  We do not know exactly what happened, but we know that many students have died".  There is no word yet from Beichuan, where more than 7,000 people are thought to have died.  The same priest says that he has no information from that place, among the spots hardest hit by yesterday's disaster.

The diocese of Hong Kong has asked its faithful to pray for the victims and to make donations for the emergency and reconstruction programs.  Next Sunday - dedicated to the Trinity - funds will be collected in all the parishes of the territory, to be sent to the areas hit by the earthquake.

Prime minister Wen Jiabao, speaking to survivors of the city of Dujiangyan, said with tears in his eyes: "as long as there is the least hope, we will continue to redouble our efforts a hundred times over.  We will not stop, we will not slow the recovery operations.  It is a disaster".