China sent thousands of military personnel, rescue teams and utility workers into the southwestern province of Sichuan where the country’s strongest earthquake in three years left 1.5 million people needing aid.
Aftershocks, insufficient relief supplies and congested, damaged roads delayed rescue efforts from the April 20 temblor in Lushan county, about 1,650 kilometers (1,025 miles) southwest of Beijing, China Central Television said. The death toll rose to 188 today with about 11,500 injured, CCTV said.
The earthquake, measured at magnitude 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey, hit on the same fault line as a 7.9 earthquake that devastated nearby Wenchuan in May 2008. That was the country’s deadliest seismic event in more than three decades, leaving about 87,000 people dead or missing, including as many as 5,335 children, according to government figures.
Premier Li Keqiang, a month into his first term, rushed to the region within hours of the tremor, in an echo of his predecessor Wen Jiabao, who flew to Wenchuan to reassure people that the Communist Party was doing everything possible to help. State television showed footage of Li meeting local government officials and rescue teams, visiting hospitals, talking to the injured and climbing over the rubble of collapsed buildings.
The State Council urged the country to donate funds for reconstruction and told non-emergency personnel to stay out of the disaster zone to ease road congestion.
The April 20 event was the strongest since April 2010, when a magnitude 6.9 quake hit western Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau, killing about 2,700 people and displacing more than 100,000.
About 18,000 soldiers and officers from the military, armed police forces and paramilitary reserve forces have been sent to the Lushan area, while the Ministry of Public Security has sent more than 2,300 firefighters to help with rescue work, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Almost 1,000 medical workers and 202 medical vehicles have been dispatched to the region, it said.
The Ministry of Finance said yesterday 1 billion yuan ($162 million) has been earmarked for rescue and relief work, relocation of people affected by the earthquake, medical treatment, subsidies for victims’ families and repairing public facilities.
“People are already starting to feel profoundly anxious about reconstruction of their houses and rebuilding their livelihoods,” Francis Markus, Beijing-based East Asia spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It’s causing a great deal of worry.”
China dispatched five drones to capture images of the areas worst hit by the earthquake, including Baoxing, Taiping and Longmen townships, Xinhua said, citing the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. The Shenyang Institute of Automation sent robots that can enter ruins to detect life, it said.
Landslides cut off roads and knocked out power and phone systems, hampering efforts by relief teams to get to villages in the more remote parts of Lushan county. As of 10 p.m. yesterday, the region had experienced almost 1,800 aftershocks, the China Earthquake Administration said on its website.
Baoxing county, an isolated area that was one of the worst hit, was reached yesterday, and rescuers with sniffer dogs are searching for survivors, Xinhua reported, citing the Ministry of Public Security’s rescue headquarters in Lushan.
Most of the buildings in the old urban area of Lushan county and Longmen have collapsed, Xinhua said, citing the local government. Many villages and townships are still cut off, it said.
The State Administration of Work Safety ordered mining in the region halted and the inspection of oil and gas pipelines to avoid leaks and explosions, according to Xinhua. Sinopec Group, Asia’s largest refiner, said no damage has been reported at its production facilities in the area, Xinhua said.
Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) halted production at its plant in Chengdu and told employees to go home to ensure the safety of their families. The factory wasn’t damaged and will resume output today, Akihiro Yamamoto, the Aichi, Japan-based company’s China executive coordinator said in Shanghai yesterday where he was attending an auto show.
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