China intensifies rescue operations as quake toll soars (Second Lead)

May 14th, 2008 - 11:06 pm ICT by admin  

Chengdu (China), May 14 (Xinhua) Soldiers and officials Wednesday intensified efforts to search and save more survivors in areas near the epicentre of Monday’s earthquake in southwest China, even as the death toll rose to about 15,000 with tens and thousands of people still missing. The first batch of 100 elite soldiers were parachuted Wednesday afternoon into Maoxian county, northeast of the quake epicentre Wenchuan, which has been cut off from the other part of the country.

According to some parachutists, who made contact with military sources, the death toll in Maoxian till Wednesday afternoon was 95, while 92 people still remained missing. More than 836 people in the county were reportedly injured in the quake.

Two of the county’s hydropower stations were severely damaged during the quake, and dam breaks were feared, the parachutists said.

Local government officials and the paratroopers are now engaged in evacuation of the county residents, the military sources said.

“In eight townships - including Yingxiu, Xuankou and Wolong - the losses are relatively serious,” Wang Yi, the head of an elite People’s Armed Police unit, told the state broadcaster CCTV from Wenchuan.

“Some towns basically have no buildings left,” he said. “They have all been razed to the ground, and the losses are now being assessed.”

Seven People’s Liberation Army (PLA) helicopters had delivered 12.8 tonnes of disaster relief goods to Wenchuan and its neighbouring counties as of Wednesday afternoon. The goods included satellite communication systems, medicine and quilts.

According to the Chengdu Military Area Command, the helicopters air-dropped food, drinking water and medicines to Yingxiu Township of Wenchuan county and also carried 47 injured people to hospitals.

According to reports, the first 1,300 soldiers had arrived in areas of Wenchuan by midafternoon Tuesday, and many more were expected to arrive Wednesday out of the 100,000 troops and armed police sent to Sichuan.

The nearby city of Mianyang reported more than 7,000 dead and an estimated 18,000 buried in collapsed buildings. About 10,000 were missing in nearby Mianzhu, where 3,000 were already confirmed dead.

Civilian and military rescue teams pulled dozens more people alive from rubble in Yingxiu and several other areas of Sichuan Wednesday, the military sources said.

By Wednesday afternoon, the official death toll was put at 14,866, including about 400 in provinces bordering Sichuan.

It was the deadliest earthquake in China since 1976 when an estimated 242,000 people died in the northern city of Tangshan near Beijing.

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