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China earthquake: Death toll nears 90,000

By Raghavendra in Beijing
May 24, 2008 19:56 IST
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The number of dead and missing in China's worst earthquake in recent decades is nearing 90,000, as visiting United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon flew into the disaster zone on Saturday and pledged the world body's support for the relief work.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao briefed the UN Secretary General on quake relief efforts and said China would carry out reconstruction as soon as possible.

Wen told Ban that the quake had claimed more than 60,000 lives in Sichuan province and other affected regions and 30,000 people were still missing.

Wen also pledged that China would try hard to restore order in quake-affected areas in three months and help people there to resume normal life.

The toll rose by 4,820 to 60,560 and is expected to go up further as thousands of people were still reported missing in the 8-magnitude quake, which shattered southwest China, with Sichuan province taking almost the entire brunt of the disaster.

The Information Office of the State Council or the cabinet said 45.5 million people had been affected by the quake and nearly 14.4 million temblor-hit people had been evacuated, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the quake-battered areas today.

Ban, who came to China from cyclone-stricken Myanmar, told people, "The whole world stands behind you and supports you".

The quake lakes, formed by landslides and mudflows triggered by the quake, continued to cause concern to authorities as workers began to dig channels to reduce water levels at some places.

As it struggled to meet the requirement of tents to shelter millions rendered homeless, the government ordered 900,000 tents from domestic manufacturers, a civil affairs official said.

About 30,000 tents will be shipped from manufacturers around the country to the quake-stricken province of Sichuan every day starting on May 30, Luo Pingfei, vice minister of civil affairs, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The Ministry of Finance said that the government had allocated US$ 2.2 billion for relief operations so far.

China on Friday said that post-disaster reconstruction would take three years, including building new villages, townships and cities in Sichuan, where 19 of the 21 cities were 'seriously ruined'.

A top official said there had been no signs of leaks in nuclear facilities in Sichuan province but 15 radiation sources were still inaccessible.

On Wednesday, China said it would slash government spending by five per cent this year and pledged US$ 10.14 billion for a fund for reconstruction in the earthquake-devastated region.

Twelve days after the country's worst quake in three decades struck, tens of thousands of soldiers and relief workers were grappling with reconstruction and rehabilitation of millions rendered homeless while not completely giving up hope of still finding survivors.

Meanwhile, the militaries of the United States and Russia have offered emergency humanitarian aid to the quake-hit areas, the Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman said.

The aid by Russian military included mobile field kitchens, military tents, quilts and blankets while the US Department of Defence donated relief supplies worth US$

China welcomed foreign militaries providing aid to the quake-battered areas with tents and medicine as the first priority, the spokesman was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Continuing his mission to provide a healing touch to the affected, the Chinese premier told surviving students in Mianyang, where many of 1,300 students and teachers were killed or missing, "Let us not forget the earthquake. Then you will know what life is all about, it is bumpy, as the roads are".

"Today, people save us and take good care of us. In the future, we will help them in return," he said, and wrote on the black board, "Trials and tribulations serve only to revitalize the nation".

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Raghavendra in Beijing
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