China quake death toll tops 51,000

China said the death toll from last week’s powerful earthquake has jumped to more than 51,000, while the government appealed today for millions of tents to shelter homeless survivors.

The confirmed number of dead rose to 51,151 – a jump of almost 10,000 from the day before.

Another 29,328 people remain missing and nearly 300,000 were hurt in the May 12 earthquake centred in Sichuan province.

The disaster destroyed or damaged millions of homes, including more than 80% of the buildings in some remote towns and villages near the epicentre.

In bigger cities, whole apartment blocks collapsed or are now too dangerous to live in because of damage and worries about aftershocks.

The Chinese government renewed an international appeal today for help in housing some of the five million homeless survivors.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: “We need more than 3.3 million tents.”

He said 400,000 tents have already been delivered.

“We hope and welcome international assistance in this regard. We hope the international community can give priority in providing tents,” he said.

Torch relay resumes

Meanwhile, the Olympic torch relay resumed its run through China following a three-day national mourning period for quake victims.

The relay, a symbol of the country’s hopes for the Beijing Olympics, started with a minute’s silence at a container terminal in the eastern seaport city of Ningbo.

The torch run has been toned down from its previous boisterous celebration of the forthcoming Olympics since the earthquake.

The first torchbearer, crane operator Zhu Shijie, said: “Your love is our hope. We all must fight the earthquake together.”

Beijing Olympic organisers said in a statement that the relay’s Sichuan leg would be delayed “to support the disaster relief efforts”.

Originally planned for next month, the leg now will take place just before the start of the games on August 8.

Chinese leaders moved to contain the political fall-out from the earthquake, promising a €6.3bn reconstruction fund.

State-run media have shifted to a more positive tone in reporting the earthquake.

Families in at least two towns where schools collapsed, killing their children, have protested or threatened to take local officials to court, suspecting shoddy construction.

In Beichuan, the smell of bleach was overpowering as rescue workers in white safety suits sprayed disinfectant in the area.

Villagers were picking up medicine from stands set up by the government.

The town’s government offices opened today at a hotel in neighbouring Anxian county.

Blocked streams, earthquake-loosened soil, mudslides and the forthcoming rainy season create the risk of secondary disasters that can make relief work and rebuilding even more difficult.

Avoiding further geological disasters during relief work and rebuilding will be a “daunting task”, said Yun Xiaosu, vice minister of land and resources.

The earthquake and aftershocks created 34 lakes, known as barrier lakes, as debris blocked rivers and streams throughout the earthquake area.

“The dangers at the barrier lakes are severe,” Mr Yun said. “The water level in some lakes is high and rising. If there’s a break, it will cause severe damage.”

People who might be in the way of breaks have already been evacuated.

The region’s rainy season starts next month, creating further problems and risk of major mudslides.

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