China quake toll will soar to 10,000, warn monks
Published 17/04/2010 | 05:00
THE death toll from the earthquake that struck western China's remote Tibetan plateau this week will reach 10,000, monks collecting the bodies warned. They accused the government of playing down the figures.
The official death toll now stands at 1,100, with a further 243 missing and 1,174 severely injured, according to Xinhua, the Chinese government news agency. But monks were struggling to cope with regular deliveries of bodies at Jiegu monastery, where they were piled three-deep.
Ge Laidanzeng, a 20-year-old monk, said at least 1,000 corpses had arrived at their temple alone, and that four other monasteries had each collected a similar number.
"The government is downplaying the number," he said.
Mr Ge predicted that when all the bodies were retrieved from the wreckage of the town, there would "definitely be more than 10,000 dead". The monks have taken charge of disposing of many of the bodies, which would traditionally be given "sky burials" in which corpses are dismembered and then scattered on mountaintops for vultures. "We cannot do this for them," said Mr Ge. "There are too many for the vultures to eat." Instead, the dead will be cremated today after a prayer service by the head of the Aka monastery, a living Buddha.
Meanwhile, the first teams of rescue workers equipped with sniffer dogs and heartbeat detectors arrived in Jiegu, delayed by the 12-hour journey from the nearest major airport in Xining. However, hopes of finding any further survivors from Wednesday's 7.1 magnitude tremors were fading fast.
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, spent a second day in Jiegu, visiting the Tranga monastery. Between 60 and 70 monks were buried at the site, and although rescuers were able to detect one faint heartbeat, they were unable to reach the victim.
More than 100 students and 12 teachers also lost their lives in the earthquake, bringing back a grim reminder of the thousands of students who died two years ago in the Sichuan earthquake.
So far, however, there have been none of the accusations of shoddily built school buildings that became a controversy in Sichuan.
Relief aid continued to trickle into Jiegu yesterday, but with the entire town's population of 100,000 sleeping in the open, the supplies of tents, blankets and food were quickly snapped up.
An exodus has begun with many families travelling on motorbikes, lorries and buses to stay with relatives elsewhere.
And 10,000 survivors, 90pc of them Tibetan, set up camp Jiegu. However, only 16 Red Cross doctors were on hand. (© Daily Telegraph, London)