Specialists turned away from quake rescue operation

Rescuers in earthquake-hit China continued to pull bodies from collapsed buildings today as a specialist British team was refused permission to join the operation.

Five days after the 7.9-magnitude quake, the official death toll reached almost 29,000, with 148,000 soldiers and police, involved in the relief operation.

But there were signs that survivors may still be clinging to life, buried under tons of rubble.

Rescuers worked through the day – using saws, drills and their hands – to free one woman pinned alive under a crumpled six-story apartment building in Longhua.

Bian Gengfeng, 31, was taken away by medics covered in mud and dust after 124 hours in the rubble.

Rescue teams from South Korea, Singapore and Russia joined Japanese specialists. But the 10-member team from the British International Rescue Corps (IRC), standing by in Hong Kong, stood down after Chinese officials there refused to grant the necessary visas.

The team, including a fireman, a landscape gardener and a structural engineer, is equipped with a miniature camera, sound location devices and a carbon monoxide analyser, but they will now return to the UK.

Spokeswoman Julie Ryan said they had to respect the decision of the Chinese authorities who told them they were unable to co-ordinate foreign nationals.

She said: “The chances of finding people under the rubble after five or six days are rapidly diminished but it’s still possible.

“Over the next few days I think we will still see people being pulled out.

“They have to have certain factors in their favour, like not being injured and having access to rain water to drink.”

Ms Ryan, who took part in the rescue effort after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, said in “miraculous” cases it was possible for survivors to be found after almost two weeks.

A disaster response team from Rapid UK, which had also been waiting to be deployed, stood down yesterday after being refused permission.

The United Nations announced a grant of up to $7m (€4.5m) from its Central Emergency Response Fund.

Officials put the death toll in south-west China at 28,881, with 198,347 people injured.

A total of 15.61 million houses have been damaged, with 3.13 million having collapsed.

State news agency Xinhua said that latest figures indicated that at 8pm on Friday, 116,460 injured people were taken to hospital, with 15,858 people in a critical condition.

Meanwhile, thousands fled areas near the town of Beichuan, fearful of flooding after landslides blocked rivers.

Xinhua said earlier that a lake in the county “may burst its bank at any time”.

Rain began to fall in Qingchuan county for the first time since the initial quake, increasing the risk of floods and more building collapses, and worsening living conditions for homeless survivors sheltered under tents and makeshift canopies.

Aftershocks continued, shaking President Hu Jintao as he praised rescue workers during a tour of the destruction.

Save the Children warned that Chinese parents should be given time to search for children missing in the earthquake, as offers from around the world flood in to adopt orphaned youngsters.

The charity said thousands of parents would have been hundreds of miles away from their loved ones when the quake struck, as they are often forced to leave children in rural homes to seek out a living in the industrial cities.

China country director Wyndham James said: “This is a chaotic situation. It is vital that children are kept safe while their parents are searching for them.

“The government has announced that it will care for the children until things calm down, which we hope will give time for that to happen.

“It is important now to set up centres that can provide a safe place where the tracing work can begin so children and parents can be reunited.

“This is important for the children, but it’s also hugely comforting for parents to know.”

More on this topic

Another quake hit Chinese region

Three pulled alive from Chinese quake rubble

China govt admits 19,000 schoolchildren died in earthquake

30 killed in Tibet earthquakes

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