The central Government's reaction to the Hebei earthquake was much faster than that to the Yunnan disaster two years ago. Soldiers, medical teams and supplies were dispatched to Hebei within hours of Saturday's tragedy. Xinhua said 2.14 million yuan (HK$1.99 million) worth of goods and funds had arrived at the quake-hit areas or were on their way to Zhangjiakou, where the relief operation was centred. Relief materials included 1,200 tents, 21,085 cotton overcoats and quilts, 15,000 kilograms of food and supplies of medicine. The Hebei Provincial Government had allocated 500,000 yuan for relief work. Hebei Vice-Governor Yang Qian and Deputy Party Secretary Xu Yongyue went to the area to co-ordinate the rescue and relief operation. A team of more than 50 seismology experts from Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi led by Ge Zhizhou, deputy director of the State Seismological Bureau, arrived at the scene six hours after the earthquake struck to make predictions and monitor aftershocks. Last night, the death toll from the quake stood at 50, with 11,439 people injured. More than 44,000 had been left homeless. One reason for the quick response is that Zhangjiakou is a major source of vegetables, water and other staples for Beijing. The issuing of timely news releases could reflect the changing attitude of the authorities to news management regarding natural disasters. China Central Television reacted unexpectedly quickly to the disaster. Not only was the quake among the top items on its 7 pm news bulletin on Saturday, but the station featured it in the following programme, News in Focus. The leadership also reacted quickly, with messages sent by President Jiang Zemin, premier Li Peng and Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji on Saturday evening. When the Yunnan earthquake struck, the central Government was criticised for its slow reaction. Then, several regional administrations, including Shanghai, dispatched relief supplies to affected areas more quickly than Beijing. In earthquakes in late 1995 and April 1996, at least 350 people were killed in Yunnan's Lijiang area. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has offered aid to the victims in Hebei. Margaret Beckett, president of Britain's Board of Trade, expressed sympathy after she arrived in Beijing yesterday.