Beijing (AsiaNews) – Amid controversy linked to the decision to go ahead with the Olympics and new risks posed by damaged reservoirs, the toll from the horrific earthquake that struck south-western China on Monday continues to rise. China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency has confirmed that almost 20,000 have died, at least 60,000 are missing and an equal number are injured.
About 100,000 rescuers are digging with their bare hands, trying to move the rubbles in Wenchuan County, the epicentre of the quake, where everything has been razed to the ground.
People are waiting in the streets for basic items that are not arriving fast enough because of the damaged provincial road network but the government has pledged swift assistance for everyone, as soon as possible.
According to UCANews, the former seminary of Chengdu (capital of Sichuan) dedicated to the Annunciation was completely destroyed by the quake, injuring three lay people.
The Chengdu Catholic Youth Fellowship had organised a pilgrimage to the seminary (which celebrated its first 100 years a few months ago) for 24 May, feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, a day the Pope dedicated to prayers for the Chinese Church.
Quake-damaged dams are raising concerns. Although the Three Gorges Dam complex (one of most ambitious and controversial plans undertaken by the government) withstood the quake, 19 other reservoirs now show cracks.
Water Resources Minister Chen Lei said that damage “damage from the quake is extensive and the hazards are unclear,” calling for caution to avoid another disaster.
Despite the destruction preparations for the Olympic Games continue.
Wang Hui, director of media and communications for the Games, assured relatives of those killed or injured in Monday's earthquake that their loved ones would not be forgotten during the summer's main competition and September's Paralympics.
“The Olympic Games have been supported by a lot of people, including the [quake] victims in Sichuan. Their support will not be forgotten by China and we will remember them during the Games,” Ms Wang said, her eyes welling with tears.
The torch relay also paid tribute to the victims. In Ruijin, the starting point of Mao’ Long March, hundreds of spectators and dignitaries dressed in black and white (mourning colours according to Chinese tradition) paused and bowed their heads during the minute of silence before torch bearers began the relay.
One of China’s main dissident Wei Jingsheng, president of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, said that the Games should be cancelled.
“People have died for more than 10,000 now,” he said; “then there are millions of people living on the street without proper shelter.” Hence “to have such a scale of celebration it's not only a disgrace to the people who have died but disrespect for the living ones as well.”