Official and grassroots relief groups rally in wake of China earthquake

The official death toll from 6.9-magnitude earthquake in China rose above 1,100 Friday. Thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks joined Chinese soldiers to distribute food and clothes in the devastated town of Jiegu.

Andy Wong/AP
China earthquake: Tibetan monks help search for students believed to be trapped at a school which collapsed after an earthquake in northwest China's Qinghai Province.

Chinese, Tibetan, and international aid groups rallied in both official and grass-roots relief efforts Friday to help the 100,000 people left homeless in western China by a devastating earthquake.

The official death toll from the quake that leveled the high mountain town of Jiegu in Qinghai Province rose to 1,194, with more than 11,000 people seriously injured, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Survivors of the quake, which struck Yushu County just after dawn on Wednesday, spent a second night outdoors in below-freezing temperatures at 13,000 feet.

IN PICTURES: Earthquake in China's Qinghai Province

The Yushu quake was recorded at 6.9 on the Richter scale by the US Geological Survey, less powerful than the 8.0 seismic event that rocked neighboring Sichuan Province in May 2008, killing 90,000 people in and around Wenchuan County.

On Friday, thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks wearing traditional crimson robes joined Chinese soldiers to distribute food and clothes in Jiegu. Medical rescue teams gathered in a makeshift center to treat the nearly 1,000 people who were seriously injured.

Chinese state television broadcast a few live rescues throughout the day, including that of a 13-year-old girl from a collapsed hotel. Premier Wen Jiabao, in Yushu late Thursday, pledged continued rescue efforts in remarks translated into the local Tibetan language.

Most of Yushu County's 100,000 people live in Jiegu, home to the Tibetan Buddhist Gyegu Monastery, loyal to the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who Beijing deems a "splittist."

Lijia, director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Friends of Rural Communities, based in the provincial capital of Xining, 600 miles away, said that his group would travel to Yushu to work with five other NGOs serving Tibetans.

With money raised via an English-language e-mail campaign, Lijia, himself a Tibetan who goes by only one name, said the NGOs would purchase food and water, tents, clothes, and medicine for delivery to numerous small communities outside Jiegu over the next three weeks.

"Then we will shape a long-term plan to help locals reconstruct their homes," he says. "The local government has its own plan, but we also believe in individual action. We will focus on those not served by the government. If we can fill that gap, we are doing our job."

A spokesman for the Chinese Red Cross who gave only his surname, Yang, said rescue teams had arrived in Yushu to investigate the disaster and deliver money, food, and supplies.

"Rescue work at Yushu is different from our work in Wenchuan two years ago. The government responded very quickly. We learned from our experiences and worked our best in Yushu," Yang said.

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman on Thursday donated $100,000 to the Chinese Red Cross on behalf of the US Embassy in Beijing.

Ramsey Rayyis, Beijing-based regional representative for the American Red Cross, said the Chinese government and the Chinese Red Cross had done a "commendable job in Sichuan," and "appear swifter in their response in Yushu due to lessons learned and contingencies put in place."

"The challenge in any disaster zone around the world is to maintain momentum once the cameras have gone away," Mr. Rayyis says.

Two years after the Sichuan quake, much of the outpouring of aid has yet to have its intended effect, says Francis Markus, information officer for the American Red Cross.

Speaking on Friday by cellphone from earthquake-hit Guangyuan, in Sichuan, Mr. Markus says: "It's a mixed picture here, because a lot is rebuilt and up and running, but many of the students we're talking to today are still living in tents."

Funds for rebuilding collapsed Sichuan homes have come partly from government grants, supplemented by low-interest bank loans, usually of about 20,000 yuan ($3,000), Markus says.

"The rest came from the Chinese Red Cross," he adds. "Their assistance, capped at about 15,000 yuan, is helping to bridge the gap, reducing the amount of debt people take on, letting them get back to their lives."

Zhang Yajun contributed to this report.

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