Rescuers battle to help victims of Sichuan quake as death toll hits 188
Rescue teams delayed by communications shutdown and long tailbacks on roads into worst-hit areas as death toll rises to 186
Zhuang Pinghui in Lushan and Teddy Ng
Relief teams battled to gain access to isolated areas in quake-hit Sichuan province as the death toll rose to 188 on Monday, with more than 11,000 injured and 21 still missing.
Rescue operations were hampered by a communications shutdown and traffic congestion partly caused by the influx of rescue squads and volunteers to the main scenes of devastation in Lushan and Baoxing counties, under Yaan city.
The State Council banned unauthorised rescue efforts and individual vehicles from going to the quake zone for fear of making the traffic problems worse.
The quake - said to be of 7.0 magnitude by mainland seismic authorities but 6.6 by the US Geological Survey - hit the Yaan area on Saturday. It came three weeks ahead of the anniversary of the 2008 quake in the province that killed more than 88,000 people.
Traffic tailbacks of up to 20 kilometres held up rescue teams and other vehicles along the road from Yaan to Lushan county, the quake's epicentre.
It has been turned into a huge refugee camp, with tents set up for survivors. Some of them complained about the lack of relief materials and said they were worried that conditions would get worse in the coming days.
Some of them held banners reading "No electricity, no water and no attention" on the 22-kilometre road to Longmen township in Yaan, visited by Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday.
Peng Shimei , a resident of Wangjia village, said houses had collapsed, but that they had received no outside help. The villagers built a hut to provide shelter for about 20 babies and children, while adults were sleeping in the open air. "We are not asking for a lot, just water for our babies," Peng said.
Liao Lei, deputy mayor of Yaan, said nearly 28,000 houses in Lushan county had collapsed and there was a shortage of drinking water.
The road to Baoxing county, another badly hit area where 22 people were killed and 15 are missing, opened briefly yesterday before being closed again last night. Telecommunications at five townships in the county were suspended, creating a problem for rescuers.
County chief Ma Jun said nearly all the houses in the county, including some built after the 2008 earthquake, were damaged. Some townships had also lost electricity and water supplies. The county has only 10 days' stock of rice, he added.
An excavator in Baoxing plunged 300 metres over a cliff and a rescue vehicle carrying 20 soldiers had left the road. The central government yesterday earmarked 1 billion yuan (HK$1.2 billion) for relief efforts, including relocation fees, medical treatment, subsidies for victims' families and repairing damaged facilities, the Finance Ministry said.
After seeing the devastation in Yaan, Premier Li yesterday visited the West China Hospital in Chengdu , where he had a simple breakfast of congee and preserved vegetables. He called for rescue efforts to be stepped up before returning to Beijing.
"The most important task is to familiarise ourselves with the disaster conditions for co-ordinated rescue operations," he said.