China quake: 5 million homeless, death toll tops 40,000

Rescuers pull 31-year-old man to safety, second known case of someone being found alive a week after.

china destruction  (photo credit: AP)
china destruction
(photo credit: AP)
China said it was struggling to find shelter for many of the 5 million people whose homes were destroyed in last week's earthquake, while the confirmed death toll rose Tuesday to more than 40,000. Meanwhile, rescuers pulled a 31-year-old man to safety, the second known case of someone being found alive a week after the May 12 earthquake struck Sichuan province. Ma Yuanjiang was saved from the debris of the Yingxiu Bay Hydropower Plant, where he worked as a director, after a 30-hour rescue effort, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Ma was able to speak and began to eat small amounts of food, colleague Wu Geng told the agency. The confirmed death toll increased to 40,075, said the State Council, China's Cabinet. Officials have said the final number killed by the quake is expected to surpass 50,000. Five million people lost their homes in the quake, said Jiang Li, vice minister of civil affairs. The government was setting up temporary housing for victims unable to find shelter with relatives, but there was a "desperate need for tents" to accommodate them, she said. Nearly 280,000 tents have been shipped to the area and 700,000 more ordered, with factories working triple shifts to meet demand. "Despite generous donations, the disaster is so great that victims still face a challenge in finding living accommodations," Jiang said. China has said it would accept foreign medical teams as the relief efforts shifted from searching for survivors to caring for the injured and homeless. A Russian medical team with a mobile hospital arrived Tuesday in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. A 37-member medical team sent by the Taiwan Red Cross organization also arrived in the disaster zone. Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said a 23-member medical team would leave Tuesday for China. Crews of doctors were also en route from Germany and Italy, Qin said. Other countries and groups have also offered to send medical teams. "But given the situation, and difficulties in the area, including transportation and telecommunications, it is not possible for us to accept all of the rescue and medical teams," he told a news conference. Rescue workers resumed the search for bodies on the second day of a three-day national mourning period declared by the Chinese government, an unprecedented gesture to honor the dead. A crew of volunteers from Tangshan, the Chinese city that suffered the country's worst quake in 1976 that killed at least 240,000 people, arrived in the quake area. "Now it's time for us to help the others that are suffering," said Song Zhixian, a farmer among a group of 15 older men wearing red hard hats and vests. "It is part of the Chinese virtue and spirit: when one place suffers, then everyone else helps." Because of plans to bury bodies quickly, Jiang said DNA samples will be taken from corpses to help with later identification. Identified bodies will be cremated, although burial will be allowed where no cremation is possible. During the mourning period, flags were flying at half-staff and entertainment events have been canceled. The Olympic torch relay was suspended. Such official mourning periods have previously only been ordered for late national leaders. More than 30 sources of radiation were buried by debris from the quake, but all except two have been disposed of and the overall situation was safe, a news report said Tuesday. There were no specifics in the Xinhua report, other than saying that "nuclear facilities and radioactive sources for civilian purposes" had been buried. The Chinese government has previously said all nuclear facilities affected by the earthquake were safe and under control, but did not give any details. Elsewhere, a panda from the famous Wolong Nature Preserve that had been missing since the quake returned safely, but two were still unaccounted for, Xinhua reported. They were "very likely to be alive," forestry official Xiong Beirong told the agency. "Both pandas were adults and they are more capable to escape from dangers than younger ones," she said. "We hope the two missing pandas are as lucky as their peers." The quake killed five staff members at the reserve and destroyed or damaged all of its 32 panda houses. The local government has sent emergency supplies of bamboo, apples and veterinary medicine for the pandas, along with food and tents for staff. Oil and gas operations in the quake zone are virtually back to normal, state-owned oil and gas giant CNPC said Tuesday. China's banking regulators ordered banks to ensure adequate loans and other support for companies and individuals in the area.