04/17/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Mass cremation for Qinghai victims

Some 700 victims are cremated together in a Tibetan ceremony in Jiegu. Little hope of finding survivors, while aid arrives slowly. Controversy over the collapse of many schools on students.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A common funeral pyre for about 700 victims in the city of Jiegu, Yushu County, devastated by the disastrous earthquake in Qinghai. After days, the arrival of relief is still slow. Meanwhile, there is growing controversy over the many students buried under collapsed schools.

In Yushu 97% of the population is Tibetan (to the point that 500 interpreters were sent with rescues teams to the area).   Local tradition usually calls for sky burials, where bodies are left in the open for birds to eat, but with so many dead this is considered impractical and unhygienic.

As a result giant funeral pyres have been prepared by Buddhist monks on a green hill above the town. The bodies were brought on wagons, placed on special platforms within furrows in the ground and were cremated, to the chanted prayers of more than 500 monks and residents.

The locals explain that the ceremony is necessary "to free the spirit of the deceased”, for whom a good reincarnation and the end of suffering is augured. The heat of the flames was felt for hundreds of metres.

Meanwhile the search for survivors is non stop. People are digging through the rubble with bare hands, although hopes are dying after 3 nights in the cold. Sometimes there are real "miracles": a 13 year old girl was pulled alive from the rubble of the Hotel Minzhu after being trapped for 54 hours. In Qinghai there are 1,144 confirmed dead, including many migrants, but also 417 "missing". The wounded are 11,744 (of which 1,192 serious).

There is also controversy over inadequate relief supplies. The government says it has sent 10 thousand soldiers and doctors. But whole villages have lost everything, with families sleeping in the open on the Himalayan plateau, at a height of 4 thousand metres and where at night the temperature drops to below freezing. Aid has begun to trickle through - but is still scarce - tents, food and medicine, brought by truck from the provincial capital Xining that is 800 kilometers distant. TV shows dozens of angry refugees trying to access relief, pushing the police out of the way. Wu Heping, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, indirectly admitted minor disturbances and riots, saying that "there is a lot of police in riot gear that controls the situation, a situation that is stable."  

Controversy about the safety of schools, most of which collapsed, burying the students and teachers is also simmering. According to figures yesterday, there were 103 students and 12 teachers killed, 35 children trapped under the rubble and 38 missing, in addition to 648 injured. But parents argue that all 20 schools in Jiegu collapsed or were seriously damaged and talk about the poor quality of building materials. The authorities say they over 90% of homes have fallen in Yushu and the percentage of casualties is low compared to 23,197 students and 938 teachers in 59 schools in Yushu County, but many complain that public buildings must be safe.  

In No. 3 primary school Yushu, 70 pupils died, trapped under the rubble. The 3-storey dormitory of vocational college in Yushu, built in 1998, collapsed on itself, with about 100 victims. The memory of Sichuan is recent and many are demanding serious investigations.

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