Volunteers flood in but China quake toll rising
In one Sichuan town, Chinese relief workers fill the streets as the overall death toll nears 15,000.
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Government soldiers, who have spearheaded emergency rescue operations, concentrated on the worst of the disaster areas in town, where large numbers of people remained trapped on Wednesday afternoon.Skip to next paragraph
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Though some residents here complain that nobody is helping them to retrieve their belongings from collapsed houses, or to search for loved ones in their homes, "the first thing we need to do is to rescue people and dig out dead bodies or they will spread disease," says Mr. Xu, deputy head of the town's Communist Party organization.
Some two dozen Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers are using probes, sniffer dogs, heavy machinery and cement saws on the collapsed ruins of a primary school where Mr. Liu's son had studied, but hopes are fading that any of the children trapped in the ruins would be found alive.
Only five had been rescued by Wednesday, and rescuers say they have heard no cries since the morning. Most of the bodies retrieved were found in what remained of the stairwell, indicating that the children were attempting to flee. "There will be at least a thousand dead" in the primary school and neighboring secondary school, says one PLA rescue worker, Chang Lei, as he takes a break. "And I don't expect we will find any more survivors."
Reports are similarly grim 30 miles west into the mountains, nearer the earthquake's epicenter. By Wednesday evening only parachutists and helicopter-borne medical teams had reached the counties, such as Beichuan, Wenchuan, and Ping Wu, where the damage is reported to be heaviest.
After two days of heavy rain, better weather Wednesday made airborne operations easier, but roads into the worst-hit regions remained blocked by landslides, rendering large-scale assistance impossible.
Reports from Beichuan Province suggest that as many as 80 percent of the buildings in that town have collapsed.
Such reports are of little consequence to Liu Ping as he leans wearily against the street-food stand on which he has laid the body of his 11-year-old son Chengjun, along with the paper money and joss sticks required for a Chinese burial.
He has covered the boy's torso with a piece of checkered blue-and-white cloth, but his sneakers and white socks are visible.
"The government has asked people to bury their family members themselves, and I am taking my son home to bury him there," Liu says. "But I don't have the strength to push him any farther."