China declares day of mourning for quake victims

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 15:24

Jiegu, China: China declared a national day of mourning for victims of last week`s earthquake as rescuers worked around the clock Tuesday under fickle, icy weather conditions.
The government said the nation would be in mourning on Wednesday with flags around the country and at embassies and consulates worldwide flown at half-mast a week after the 6.9-magnitude quake hit a remote corner of Qinghai province.

Public entertainment activities around the country were also to be postponed as a mark of respect on the day, said the State Council, or Cabinet.

The death toll in the earthquake in northwestern China stood at 2,046 people, with 193 more missing, according to state media. Another 12,000 people have been injured and tens of thousands left homeless.

Meanwhile, rescuers continued to sift through collapsed buildings in the town of Jiegu -- the main population centre in the disaster zone -- as they were battered by hailstones, said a foreign NGO worker in Jiegu who asked not to be named.

Authorities warned that snow and plummeting temperatures would hit the region Tuesday, adding to the difficulties of devastated survivors forced to camp outside after thousands of homes collapsed.

"We estimate that in the next few days, the rain, snow and low temperatures will harm relief work and (those working in) transport, medicine and health should strengthen their guard," the National Meteorological Centre said.

More than 12,700 soldiers and paramilitary police were now taking part in rescue work, PLA Major General Wang Zhenguo told reporters in Beijing.

Monks in maroon and saffron robes also continued to sift through the rubble, amid hopes of finding more survivors after two miracle rescues on Monday.

Two Tibetan women and a four-year-old girl were pulled out of the rubble by rescuers on Monday, more than five days after the quake struck. The disaster region sits high up in a rugged area at an elevation of around 4,000 metres (13,00 feet), which government officials have blamed for hindering efforts to reach victims with large-scale relief sooner.

The area, which borders on Tibet, is part of the traditional Tibetan homeland and more than 90 percent of its population is from the occasionally restive ethnic minority.

Authorities have said language problems have also complicated rescue efforts as relief workers have had trouble communicating with locals, many of whom speak only Tibetan.

But amid the distress caused by the disaster, stories of heroism and survival trickled from the region. At the Number One Minorities Middle School, all 830 students and teachers were saved when the deputy principal felt a small tremour hours before the quake and evacuated everyone from their dorms, the China Youth Daily said.

And a 16-year-old Tibetan girl dug out nine members of her family alive with her bare hands after the quake struck, according to official Xinhua news agency.

Meanwhile, local authorities had started to focus on post-quake recovery, with one of their main tasks being tallying up the exact number of girls and boys orphaned by the disaster.

Many families had already contacted the Qinghai civil affairs department to inquire about adoptions, the state-run Global Times reported.

And plans were already afoot to redevelop the disaster zone into an eco-tourism site, with government housing experts carrying out geological surveys to prepare for reconstruction, the China Daily newspaper said.

Tibetan monks ask govt to reach out to them for relief work

Tibetan Buddhist monks, who are
active in rescue operations after the massive earthquake in
China, feel that their services have remained under utilised
and have asked the government to reach out to them for relief
work.

Monks from various sects had shed their differences and
plunged into relief work soon after the 7.1 temblor struck
China`s Tibetan dominated Qinghai province, feel they can do
more if authorities coordinate with them.

"We are living Buddhas and people here respect us. There
is so much we could do. Even with rescue work, since we are
from places of high altitude, we could help with rescue work
immediately" Longzhi, a Buddhist monk, among hundreds who took
part in relief work said in the quake-hit Jiegu town.

"Instead, in most places where there were soldiers we
were not allowed to help. We could only help dig in places
where there were no government rescue workers yet," the Hong
Kong based South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.

He along with Juechi a monk from another sect of Buddhism
who worked together in the quake-hit areas urged the
government to reach out more to monks.

"We talk about unity and harmonious society. Religion is
an essential part of it. This is what religion is for,"
Longzhi said.

About 96 per cent of the population of quake hit Qinghai
are Tibetans and it is also the native province of Dalai Lama,
who asked the government to permit him to visit the areas to
console people devastated by the quake.

Since the quake, crimson-robed monks have been handing
out food, water and other essential items around the town.
They were among the first ones to rush to rescue survivors and
dug out survivors and bodies.

They are also handing out 200 yuan (USD 29) cash to each
family who had lost their home or a loved one, the Post said.

The monks, from different branches of Tibetan Buddhism
who rarely interacted with each other, closed their ranks this
time and worked together overcoming their animosities.

The government has made use of the services of the monks
specially to cremate the dead with religious ceremonies. Monks
who are cremating the dead also projected a higher death toll.

Both Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao
who visited the quake hit areas acknowledged the work done by
monks and interacted with some of them.

For rescuers hailing from the mainland Qinghai, calamity
is also a new experience as they were exposed for the first
time to Tibetans who are deeply spiritual by nature and have a
very different food and life styles.

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 15:24

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