China’s drops aid from helicopters as quake toll touches 15,000 (Lead)

May 14th, 2008 - 3:18 pm ICT by admin  

Beijing, May 14 (DPA) Military helicopters flew aid Wednesday to settlements cut off near the epicentre of a devastating earthquake in southwestern China as the confirmed death toll rose to about 15,000 with tens of thousands of others missing and feared dead. Heavy rain had initially prevented the helicopters from flying emergency aid to Wenchuan county in Sichuan province while troops were still trying to restore the badly damaged main road to the county.

Some troops walked Tuesday to Yingxiu, one of the worst affected towns in Wenchuan, and the military later said at least 500 people were confirmed dead in the area.

But the extent of the damage and casualties in Wenchuan, which has a population of 105,000, remained unclear.

He Biao, the deputy head of Aba prefecture, which administers Wenchuan, said the damage in Yingxiu was worse than expected and about eight in 10 of its townspeople were missing.

About 2,300 people out of Yingxiu’s population of more than 10,000 were known to have survived the quake, and more than 1,000 of the survivors were badly injured, he said.

The survivors desperately needed medical help, food and water, he said, after a quake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale caused widespread damage Monday afternoon.

About 100 paratroopers were also preparing to land later on Wednesday in Wenchuan, where state media said about 60,000 people were still out of contact with authorities.

About 1,300 soldiers had arrived in areas of Wenchuan by mid-afternoon Tuesday and more were expected to arrive Wednesday out of the 50,000 troops sent to Sichuan.

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

Civilian and military rescue teams continued to pull people alive from rubble in Yingxiu and several other areas of Sichuan and the nearby city of Chongqing.

The central government allocated 860 million yuan ($123 million) for relief operations while the Chinese Red Cross collected 65 million yuan ($9 million), and donations were promised by many foreign governments.

The earthquake could be felt in cities hundreds of kilometres away, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

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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