Sichuan quake: toll rises to 15,000 dead and 40,000 missing
Official figures now say 15,000 dead but fears are growing for the 40,000 missing. Cardinal Zen urges Catholics to pray and starts a fund raising campaign on behalf of rescue operations. Hong Kong diocese sends US$ 300,000 for immediate needs.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – State-owned Xinhua news agency in its latest report announced that more than 15,000 people are confirmed dead, 40,000 people were missing and an unspecified number were wounded in the devastating earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale that struck south-western China two days ago, especially Sichuan province.

In its response the Chinese government has quickly deployed 100,000 soldiers and military police for rescue operations in the quake-hit areas, but they have been slowed down by the nature of the terrain and especially by the magnitude of the disaster.

In Wenchuan County alone, the army said that eight towns were literally razed to the ground with at least 19,000 people still trapped under the rubble. For one volunteer time is running out lessening any hope that survivors might still be rescued.

In Wenchuan's Yingxiu town, only 2,300 of the 10,000 local residents have been accounted for, and more than a thousand of them are seriously injured.

For deputy secretary-general of the Aba prefectural government He Biao, the situation was desperate.

International aid is arriving but it is stuck in Chengdu (capital of Sichuan) waiting for roads to the affected areas to be cleared.

The bishop of Hong Kong, Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, called on Catholics in the territory to pray for the victims in Sichuan and make generous donations to rebuild and rehabilitate the area.

As an immediate step the Hong Kong diocese and the local Caritas have allocated about US$ 300,000 for immediate rescue needs. Every local parish is also getting involved by raising money.

Caritas has also opened a special account for donations. Anyone interested in making a contribution can do so at Account n. 721-010-001606, made out to Caritas Hong Kong at the ICBC Bank, Asia Section. Donors should write their name and address on the object of payment if they wish to get a receipt for tax deduction purposes.