Death toll in China quake reaches 11,921, 7 Israelis missing

Untold numbers remain trapped after the country's worst earthquake in three decades; 2 Israelis missing.

china quake 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
china quake 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Chinese rescue workers have reported that 3,629 people had been confirmed dead and 18,645 were still buried under debris in Mianyang city, which neighbors the epicenter of the massive earthquake that struck China. The official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday also quoted the rescue workers as saying there was serious damage to the buildings and roads in Mianyang and that water and gas supplies had been cut off. The official death toll so far from Monday's quake is 11,921. It is not known if the Minyang figures are included in that. A day after the 7.9-magnitude quake devastated a region of small cities and towns set amid steep hills north of Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu, rescue workers were frantically searching for survivors. Compounding the rescue effort was rain, which Premier Wen Jiabao said was forecast for the next several days. Wen, who flew to Sichuan to oversee rescue efforts, said a push was on to clear roads and restore electricity as soon as possible. "The disaster was more serious than predicted. The rescue sites are very complex. But the public (here) will have hope as long as they see people coming to help," he said. Striking in mid-afternoon Monday, the quake emptied office buildings halfway across the country in Beijing, and could be felt as far away as Thailand and Pakistan. In Chengdu, it crashed telephone networks and hours later left parts of the city of 10 million in darkness. The official Xinhua News Agency reported nearly 10,000 people died in central China's Sichuan province alone and 300 others in three other provinces and the mega-city of Chongqing. Worst hit were four counties including the quake's epicenter in Wenchuan, 60 miles northwest of Chengdu. Landslides blocked roads into the area. The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday afternoon that seven Israelis in the country were still yet to contact their families. The Communist Party secretary for Wenchuan used a satellite phone to appeal for air drops of tents, food and medicine. "We also need medical workers to save the injured people here," Xinhua quoted Wang Bin as telling other officials who reached him by satellite phone. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters Tuesday that many countries had offered to help relief efforts from Monday's earthquake. He said disaster authorities in China would make contact with relevant countries and organizations. But the spokesman gave no specifics about what kind of assistance China would accept, such as whether it would include just aid supplies or letting in outside experts. The incident's economic effects have already begun to be felt when coal mines, chemical plants and gas wells damaged by China's devastating earthquake were ordered Tuesday to suspend operation while they undergo safety inspections. The announcement by the State Administration of Work Safety gave no indication how widespread damage might be. "All types of production enterprises affected by the disaster, especially coal mines, chemical plants and gas wells, must immediately suspend production and evacuate staff," the agency said in a statement on its Web site. Snippets from state media and photos posted on the Internet underscored the immense scale of the devastation. In Juyuan town, south of the epicenter, a three-story high school collapsed, burying as many as 900 students and killing at least 60, Xinhua said. Officials at another school in the area said about 300 students were killed when a classroom building collapsed, Xinhua reported. Rescuers worked through the night to remove debris, some of it stained with blood, trying to recover the bodies. To the east of Wenchuan, in Beichuan county, 80 percent of the buildings collapsed, and 10,000 people were injured aside from 3,000 to 5,000 dead, Xinhua said. Two chemical plants in an industrial zone in Shifang city just north of Chengdu collapsed, Xinhua said, burying hundreds of people and spilling more than 80 tons of toxic liquid ammonia. About 600 people were killed in Shifang, although Xinhua did not say whether they died in the quake or as a result of the chemical spill. As many as 2,300 people were still buried under the rubble, including more than 900 students. State television said the earthquake had cut all communications to one of the last homes of the giant panda at the Wolong Nature Reserve and panda breeding center, in Wenchuan county. The fate of the 215 pandas there is not known. Though slow to release information at first, the government and its state media ramped up quickly. Nearly 20,000 soldiers, police and reservists were sent to the disaster area, with some going on foot because roads were impassable. Disasters pose a test to China's communist government, whose mandate rests heavily on maintaining order, delivering economic growth and providing relief in emergencies. Pressure for a rapid response was particularly intense this year, as the government was already grappling with public discontent over high inflation and a widespread uprising among Tibetans in western China while trying to prepare for the Beijing Olympics this August. Expressions of sympathy and offers of help poured in from the United States and the European Union, among others. "I am particularly saddened by the number of students and children affected by this tragedy," US President George W. Bush said in a statement. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge sent a note of condolences to Chinese President Hu Jintao. "The Olympic Movement is at your side, especially during these difficult moments," Rogge wrote, according to an IOC statement. The quake was China's deadliest since 1976 and hit a fault where South Asia pushes against the Eurasian land mass, smashing the Sichuan plain into mountains leading to the Tibetan highlands - near communities that held sometimes violent protests against Chinese rule in mid-March. Much of the area has been closed to foreign media and travelers since, compounding the difficulties of getting information from the region. Roads north from Chengdu to the disaster area were sealed off early Tuesday to all but emergency convoys. China's two stock exchanges suspended trading Tuesday in 66 companies based in the region in an effort to minimize potential disruptions from the disaster. In Tokyo, Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Toshiaki Hori said production had been suspended at the company's Chengdu factory. The company will decide when to resume operations after it inspects the plant for any safety problems. The US Geological Survey said the depth of the earthquake was about 6 miles - which gave the tremor such wide impact, geologists said. In Beijing, 930 miles to the north where hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors are expected for the Olympics in August, venues for the games were undamaged. Li Jiulin, a top engineer on the 91,000-seat National Stadium - known as the Bird's Nest and the jewel of the Olympics - was conducting an inspection at the venue when the quake occurred. He told reporters the building was designed to withstand a 8.0 quake. China's massive Three Gorges dam, the world's largest about 350 miles to the east of the epicenter, was not affected, said a Ms. Diao from the information office of State Council Three Gorges Construction Committee. The area around the enormous dam remains increasingly precarious as rising waters in the enormous reservoir have led to landslides. The quake was China's deadliest since the most devastating in modern history, which killed 240,000 people in the city of Tangshan, near Beijing in 1976.