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China Quake Efforts Focus on Housing Victims; Search for Suvivors Ongoing

( [email protected] ) May 19, 2008 02:45 PM EDT
BEICHUAN, China (AP) - Rescuers held out hope of finding more survivors Saturday, nearly five days after a powerful earthquake ravaged China's Sichuan province, and authorities prepared for the daunting task of housing and feeding millions left homeless.
Rescuers search for earthquake survivors in Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan province, China, Saturday, May 17, 2008. (Photo: AP Images / Vincent Yu)

BEICHUAN, China (AP) - Rescuers held out hope of finding more survivors Saturday, nearly five days after a powerful earthquake ravaged China's Sichuan province, and authorities prepared for the daunting task of housing and feeding millions left homeless.

I Am: A Man A Woman Looking for: A Woman A Man Buoyed by finding a girl alive after 100 hours trapped in a school following Monday's magnitude 7.9 quake, government leaders, including President Hu Jintao, said they would not give up hope of finding others.

Officials have said the earthquake's final death toll could reach 50,000.

More than a day past what experts call the critical three-day window for finding survivors, rescuers pulled to safety a 10-year-old girl who had been trapped under her collapsed elementary school for 100 hours, China Central Television reported Saturday.

With the help of a crane, dozens of workers removed the fourth grader from the rubble of Yingxiu Central Elementary School in Wenchuan on Friday evening after working all day. A dozen students had been rescued from the school, CCTV said.

The girl's condition was not known. CCTV said medical teams were treating the girl, who looked like a dusty rag doll when she was pulled out of the wreckage, missing a shoe and with a white cloth tied over her face to protect her from the blinding light after being in darkness for so long.

Rescue teams recovered 163 people alive on Friday, CCTV said Saturday.

Hu, who arrived in Sichuan on Friday, was shown on television comforting survivors and encouraging soldiers who were carrying out rescue work.

The vast majority of survivors are rescued in the first 24 hours after a disaster, with the chances of survival dropping as each day passes, said Dr. Irving Jacoby of the University of California.

A person trapped but uninjured could survive for a week or even 10 days, and in extreme circumstances two weeks or more.

"They could live for a week without food but water is needed" to prevent dehydration, said Jacoby, who heads a San Diego, California-based medical assistance team that responded to a 1989 earthquake in California, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and other disasters.

The rescue work of digging through unstable buildings is dangerous because of continuing aftershocks. On Friday afternoon an aftershock rattled parts of central Sichuan province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. A number of vehicles were buried on a road leading to the epicenter, and the number of casualties was unknown.

More foreign rescuers were at work Saturday, with teams from South Korea, Singapore and Russia joining a Japanese specialist group.

A U.S. Air Force cargo plane loaded with tents, lanterns and 15,000 meals left Hawaii on Saturday for China. It is the first aid flight from the United States to help in Sichuan province. Another Air Force delivery was due to go to China from Alaska.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a grant of up to US$7 million (�4.52 million) from the U.N.'s Central Emergency Response Fund, which will be used by U.N. agencies and programs to help meet the most urgent humanitarian requirements, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

The government has not given a figure for the number of people left homeless, but Housing Minister Jiang Weixin said more than 4 million apartments and homes had been damaged or destroyed in Sichuan province. He said the water supply situation was "extremely serious" in Sichuan, and not flowing at all in 20 cities and counties.

Caring for the untold tens of thousands or more survivors across the earthquake zone was stretching government resources.

Just north of the provincial capital of Chengdu, the town square in Shifang was a tented encampment holding 2,000 people and coordinator Li Yuanshao said there was a lack of tents. Many people had walked in from surrounding towns with few belongings.

"We brought almost nothing, only the clothes we are wearing," said Zhang Xinyong, a junior in high school who had walked several hours to the camp.

In the town of Yingxiu, helicopters dropped leaflets urging people to "unite together" and giving tips like not to drink dirty water. Power and water remained cut off, and dazed and exhausted residents had hike 40 yards (meters) up a steep hill to a spring to fetch water.

On another hillside, at least 80 corpses in plastic body bags were placed into a trench dug by soldiers.

The confirmed death toll had risen to about 22,069 on Friday, but another 14,000 were thought to be buried in Sichuan.

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