Yunnan quake death toll jumps to 589 as 72-hour critical rescue period lapses

Officials urge against non-professional rescuers delivering 'substandard' aid to survivors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 11:47am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 11:36pm

The Yunnan earthquake death toll has climbed to 589, according to the government, as rescuers battled landslides and blocked routes to reach survivors still trapped in the disaster zone.

Nine are still missing and 2,401 are wounded, as of the latest figures released by the Yunnan provincial government.

Authorities has called for volunteers to stay away from one of the disaster zones on Wednesday as traffic blocked supply routes and “substandard” relief goods flooded into the area.

READ: Landslides block aid from reaching Yunnan quake disaster as death toll surges to 589

Pang Chenmin, head of the civil affairs ministry’s disaster relief bureau, urged the public to avoid the disaster zone as the 72-hour “golden period” for rescue drew to a close.

“In order to ensure the best chances of rescuing survivors, we advise non-professional groups and volunteers against entering the quake zone by themselves so as not to cause traffic and communication difficulties,” he said, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

Rescue efforts in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where hundreds have died and more than one million people have been affected since the 6.1-magnitude quake struck on Sunday, were hampered by landslides blocking roads.

In Longtoushan township, the quake’s epicentre, workers halted traffic as they set off explosions on the mountainsides to dislodge huge boulders perched precariously over roads.

Huge tailbacks have developed around the worst-hit areas, mainly consisting of cars driven by members of the public bringing in supplies or offering help.

Many volunteers who walked or hitchhiked to Longtoushan have slept out in the open, or entered tents used by survivors.

Some brought their own vehicles into the worst-hit areas, carrying in goods such as fizzy drinks.

“Some relief materials are unfit for use in disaster areas, some are substandard products, some are overly abundant and take up precious space and traffic resources,” added Pang.

A huge tremor in Sichuan in 2008 which killed more than 80,000 people – China’s worst quake since 1976 – sparked a wave of public sympathy and a huge volunteer rescue effort.

Subsequent earthquakes have seen problems with volunteers, who have sometimes been labelled “disaster gawkers” by Chinese media.

Watch: Relatives mourn after hundreds die in China quake

Search efforts in Longtoushan were being concentrated in a 600-metre swathe of hillside in the township’s central urban area.

The body of a young child was pulled out in front of relatives wailing in grief late on Tuesday night.

More than 18,000 professional rescuers have headed to the disaster zone, state media said, most of them military and police.

In Yunnan, about 81,000 houses have completely collapsed in the quake, while another 500,000 were damaged. About 230,000 people are in need of shelter.

The quake has also damaged houses in the neighbouring provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan, where more than 26,000 people have been affected by the disaster.