Battle to save thousands still trapped in quake zone
THOUSANDS of people remained trapped in a remote part of western China last night as rescuers battled strong winds and altitude sickness to reach Jiegu, in Qinghai province, one day after an earthquake devastated the region.
The death toll reached 617, with more than 9,000 injured.
About 15,000 houses collapsed and 100,000 people need to be relocated, according to China's Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Beijing mobilised a large rescue force, including 5,000 troops, firefighters and medical teams whose convoys stretched almost the length of the 1000-km road that separates the earthquake zone from Xining, the provincial capital.
Survivors, fearing aftershocks, slept outside in tents, sheltering from the fierce winds whipping across the Tibetan Plateau, which lies at an average altitude of 13,000ft and where oxygen levels are one-third of those at sea level.
"It's very ghastly. The whole town has come down," said Tashi Tsering director of Jinpa, a charity that supports education and health projects in the area.
"Most of the houses are made of wood and mud so they have totally collapsed. I'm sure there are some people alive underneath."
Bolstering inadequate medical facilities in such a poor area was the top priority of disaster relief co-ordinators who set up triage stations at an outdoor sports field and racing track in Jiegu.
But doctors told Chinese television that without medicine, which was still in transit, they had little choice other than to amputate severely injured limbs.
"We've seen too many bodies and now they're trying to deal with them. The bodies are piled up like a hill. You can see bodies with broken arms and legs and it breaks your heart," said Dawa Cairen, who works for the Amity Foundation and was helping in rescue efforts.
"You can see a lot of blood. It's flowing like a river."
Grim pictures emerged from several collapsed schools that were the focus of early rescue efforts. Footage on state television and photos posted online showed bodies laid out near the rubble, and the Xinhua News Agency quoted a local education official as saying 66 children and 10 teachers had died, mostly in three schools.
Just after dusk, about 20 Buddhist monks in burgundy robes and their friends sat by a pile of smouldering rubble where the Jieji temple used to be.
Next to them lay the body of a middle-aged monk, covered in a blanket wrapped by an elastic cord with his foot sticking out. Four other bodies were in a nearby car.
"We've come to bring their bodies home," said layman Silang Pingcuo, who came with the others by motorcycle from neighbouring Tibet.
To reinforce Beijing's concern in a Tibetan area that saw anti-government protests two years ago, Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Yushu yesterday evening to check on rescue work and meet survivors. He put off a trip next week to Indonesia, Brunei and Myanmar.
As the sun was setting, he appeared from a minibus and scrambled up the wreckage.
With a tear in his eye, he promised survivors that more rescuers were on the way, including teams with sniffer dogs.
"We will help you build a good life," he promised, to cheers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)