China begins 3 days of mourning for victims
|Photo gallery: China earthquake|
By Audra Ang
By Audra Ang
BEICHUAN, China — China stood still and sirens wailed today to mourn the country's tens of thousands of earthquake victims, as the search for survivors increasingly became a search for bodies.
While 1.3 billion citizens came to a halt for three minutes at 2:28 p.m. — exactly one week after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit central China — air-raid sirens and the horns of cars and buses sounded in memory of the dead.
The State Council, or Cabinet, told reporters today that the confirmed death toll had risen to 34,073. The government has said it expects the final toll to surpass 50,000.
In the disaster area, more than 200 relief workers were reported buried over the past three days by mudslides while working to repair roads in Sichuan, Xinhua reported.
An official confirmed mudslides had caused some deaths but gave no details. "The total death toll is still being counted," said the official at the Sichuan provincial Communications Department.
The hunt for survivors in the rubble turned glum despite remarkable survival tales among thousands buried. Two women were rescued today after being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building at a coal mine in Sichuan, Xinhua reported.
HOMELESS NEED TENTS
During three days of national mourning ordered by the government, flags were to fly at half-staff and public entertainment was canceled — an unprecedented outpouring of state sympathy on a level normally reserved for dead leaders.
The Olympic torch relay, a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to August's much-anticipated Beijing Games, also was suspended during the mourning period.
In Beijing, during the three minutes of tribute to quake victims, workers stood still 23 stories up the frame of a building under construction. Traffic on highways and roads stopped. Some drivers got out of their cars while others sounded their horns.
The military was still struggling to reach areas cut off by the earthquake, with more than 10,000 discovered stranded in Yinxiui valley near the epicenter, China National Radio said today. There was no information on casualties there, and 600 soldiers were hiking into the area.
In an indication of the massive challenge China faces in housing the millions made homeless by the earthquake, the Foreign Ministry made an international appeal for tents.
"China requests the international community donate tents as a priority when they donate materials because many houses were toppled in the quake and because it is the rainy season," ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement, also thanking the international community for its help so far.
The government order for the mourning period said all Internet entertainment and game sites had to be taken off-line and users redirected to sites dedicated to commemorating earthquake victims, the Chinese news Web portal sina.com said.
China's National Grand Theater will cancel or postpone all performances during the three days, and media reports said numerous bars, nightclubs, karaoke parlors and movie theaters had shut down beginning at midnight in major cities such as Beijing, Shenyang and Changsha.
The Culture Ministry said in a statement it would carry out inspections to ensure orders for a halt to entertainment during the mourning period were followed.
Trade on China's stock and commodities exchanges was also suspended for the three-minute period of silence, the Securities Regulatory Commission said.
The national flag in Tiananmen Square, solemnly raised every morning at dawn, was flown at half-staff in a ceremony repeatedly broadcast on state television.
Newspapers across China printed their logos in black and some ran entirely without color. Several front pages were covered in black, with simple messages in white text across the middle, "The nation mourns," "Pray for life," and "National tragedy."
SEARCHES TAPERING OFF
The mourning period began as hope of finding more trapped survivors dwindled, and preventing hunger and disease among the homeless became more pressing.
Hu Yongcui, 38, said she did not care about the official show of mourning as she headed to Beichuan, near the quake's epicenter, to search for her missing 17-year-old daughter.
"I can't feel anything. I have no words," she said. "I just want to go home. I just want to find my daughter."
In a sign the search for survivors was concluding, Japan said it was considering withdrawing rescue crews to be replaced with an expanded medical team to treat survivors because of declining opportunities to use their technology to hunt for trapped victims.
"It's been a week since the earthquake and at this point chances we can make use of our technology are very limited. It's time to think about what to do with our rescue operation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency.
"There is definitely a need for medical experts, and we can dispatch a team whenever there is a request," he said.
In addition to the rising death toll, the injured from last week's earthquake numbered more than 220,000.
In Dujiangyan, three local government officials were removed from their posts for dereliction of duty over the earthquake — the first officials punished, Xinhua reported.
One of the officials was reprimanded for miscounting casualty figures, while the others were punished for failing to come to work.
The Communist Party's discipline committee had instructed all officials to "stand at the front line" of the disaster and vowed to deal harshly with those who did not, the agency said.