The Chinese government estimates that 50,000 people so far have died in the earthquake that hit Sichuan on Monday. The numbers are likely to rise as thousands of people are still trapped in rubble, and several towns are still cut off. Rescuers are racing against the clock to retrieve remaining survivors. Beijing has announced it will allow rescue teams from Japan and Taiwan into the affected region.
Chinese PM Wen Jiabao visiting Sichuan province after quake
One of hundreds of teams working against the clock in Sichuan, a group of rescuers had already spent the whole night digging. They had used huge bulldozers and cranes, but had also resorted to their bare hands.
In the early morning hours, the rescuers fell into each other’s arms, crying. But they had been able to pull out 82 people alive from under the rubble of a collapsed housing block, including a highly-pregnant woman.
One rescuer explained the situation as the work continued: “It was another city, another ruin. A dog led us to this building. Old people are still trapped underneath. The dog came out of the rubble and barked. We are trying to pull out survivors.“
A relative stood nearby, keeping watch: “Our father is underneath. To begin with, he was knocking but we can’t hear anything now.“
Relief and great suffering
There are moments of relief when survivors are rescued but there is mostly a great deal of unimaginable suffering in the quake-hit region. For instance, a massive school collapsed in Qingchuan. 600 rescue workers have been struggling to access survivors and bodies in the debris. So far, they have pulled out 270 bodies.
One rescue worker explained that it was a risky task: “We’re trying to pull them out. But we have to be careful because the ground is shaky. Everything could collapse.“
The authorities have stepped up their rescue operations by air. Dozens more extra helicopters and planes have been deployed to drop food, blankets and clothes in the affected areas.
Difficulties of flying
But even by air, it is not easy to access the earthquake zone. “Yesterday, the pilots had to fly through very low clouds and kept losing contact,” explained one local woman.
“Autopilots can’t be used in these situations. The planes have to be piloted by experienced people. Yesterday they were able to find an appropriate landing strip and fly 174 injured people out.“
The mountainous region is extremely difficult to navigate on foot or by vehicle. Three towns are reportedly still cut off. A local party head said thousands of people had been holding out for days and reported that a local who had made his way through the valley on foot had reported that every second person in his home village had been injured.
The authorities fear the death toll will rise sharply as rescuers dig out more bodies from under collapsed buildings.