May 14, 2008 in Nation/World

Steady rain hampers search for China quake survivors

Mark Magnier Los Angeles Times


Washington state residents await work from quake zone/B3

MIANZHU, China – Rescue workers facing a rising death toll and heavy rains Tuesday dug for survivors of China’s worst earthquake in decades, as people throughout the country searched for loved ones, medical help, water and food.

Outside Zhu Renmin Hospital, where thousands of dead and severely injured people were gathered in a parking lot, police and government workers arrived early in the day to help move patients to the provincial capital, Chengdu, and other area hospitals.

As darkness fell along with steady rain in a city without power, doctors at the Zhu Renmin lot raced to move hospital beds into tents to care for patients huddled in the cold. Surgical gloves, used needles and bed pans littered the grounds along with blood-stained mattresses and adult diapers.

“I’ve never s een so many people dead or injured,” said Luo Ping, a pediatric nurse.

The number of deaths from the magnitude 7.9 earthquake a day earlier rose to more than 12,000 in hard-hit central Sichuan province, where the quake was centered 60 miles northwest of Chengdu, according to state media. Officials said soldiers and police were struggling to reach at least 18,000 buried victims in and around Mianyang, many of them children trapped in the debris of schools that collapsed.

Thousands more were believed trapped or missing elsewhere. Throughout the region roads were closed by landslides, and storms impeded delivery of supplies as the need for medicine and doctors intensified while tens of thousands of survivors spent their days and nights outside.

Rescuers on Tuesday reached hard-hit Beichuan. TV footage showed soldiers in green camouflage lifting large chunks of concrete and talking to students who remained under the rubble.

“How many of you are there?” a rescuer asked.

“About 30,” a chorus of young voices answered back.

Aftershocks and government warnings about safety kept nervous survivors outside of buildings. The official Xinhua News Agency said 80 percent of the structures had collapsed in Beichuan – whole swaths of the city.

The quake struck Monday afternoon and was felt across much of China. It was the worst quake in the country since 1976, when tens of thousands perished.

Rescue workers, including thousands of Chinese troops armed with shovels, made their way through mud and landslides to reach the remote epicenter in mountainous Sichuan province.

Officials expressed gratitude for offers of relief supplies from around the world but said they would not admit foreign aid workers immediately because they could not accommodate outside personnel.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao traveled to Dujiangyan, where a middle school collapsed and trapped hundreds of students, and visited other locations.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email