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China declares 3-day mourning after quake

It also suspends the Olympic torch relay as powerful aftershocks and a looming threat of floods lead to panic.

world Updated: May 19, 2008 01:57 IST

China on Sunday declared a three-day national mourning for the 32,500 people killed in the Monday's devastaing earthquake and suspended the Beijing Olympic torch relay as continuing powerful aftershocks and a looming threat of floods led to panic in the affected southwestern region.

A man suffering only slight bruises was pulled out of the rubble of a collapsed hospital 139 hours after the quake in Beichuan county, official Xinhua news agency said as China on Sunday raised the official death toll to 32,477 and the number of injured to over 2.2 lakh in the disaster.

Exhausted rescuers also pulled out more survivors trapped for six days in the rubble, including a 50-year old man in Maoxian county, about 50 km northeast of the epicentre Wenchuan County.

More than 9,500 people still remain buried in southwest China's Sichuan Province on Sunday, provincial government said, as the authorities revised the magnitude of the earthquake from 7.8 to 8.0 on the Richter Scale.

Massive landslides triggered by the earthquake and the aftershocks had blocked rivers and caused build up of water in several counties, causing anxiety in areas lying downstream, the Water Conservancy Authority said.

An aftershock measuring 6 on the Richter scale jolted Jiangyou county on Sunday, causing cracks in the mountain and seriously damaging the roads leaving huge crevices, sending waves of panic, it said, adding there were no casualties. The Seismological Bureau has recorded 146 aftershocks of 4 or higher magnitude since Monday.

China also said its nuclear assets in the affected area were "safe" as the region has some key atomic sites and the countrys chief nuclear weapons research lab.

"I can say in a responsible manner that all these facilities are safe and secure," senior military officer Ma Jian told reporters. He said shortly after the earthquake struck the region, the army sent a team to the area and "put the entire facilities under strict protection measures". "There is no problem involved here (in nuclear facilities)".

Ma said military facilities were "slightly affected" by the quake but there was no report of severe damage to them. The State Council or the cabinet declared a three-day national mourning from monday during which period flags will fly half mast and all "public amusements" would be suspended in memory of the victims as a "nationwide display of respect for the dead", official Xinhua news agency said.

A three-minute silence would be observed from 2.28 pm on Monday, exactly the time when the quake came in all its fury causing untold misery to millions.

The Olympic torch relay would also remain suspended for three days, the Beijing Olympics Organising Committee said. It said it has decided to "pause" the relay from May 19 to 21 in memory of those who lost their lives in the "terrible earthquake".

Surrounded by wailing women at a temporary shelter camp at Yinghua, President Hu Jintao spoke comforting words.
"I know you lost family and property. I share the pain with you," he said. "We will try every effort to save your people once there is the slightest hope and possibility."

"The chance for the victims to survive are very slim, but we also had precedents to find survivors days after being trapped. So, we won't give up," said Takashi Koizumi, head of the Japanese team, the first foreign rescue squad to be allowed by China in Beichuan county.

Another Japanese team is looking for survivors at a collapsed middle school building where 700 students were still trapped. The Ministry of Defence spokesman Hu Changming said rescue of survivors still remained a "top priority" and "as long as there is a glimmer of hope (of survival), we will make rescue effort". The rescue operations were now in a "crucial stage", he said.

Chinese Ministry of Health said no disease outbreaks or emergency public health incidents had been reported by midnight on Saturday. Bad weather, treacherous terrain and aftershocks have often compounded the problems for rescuers. As the rescuers battled many odds in their mammoth relief and rescue effort, the Chinese National Meteorological Center (NMC) on Monday forecast that rains or even thunderstorms might sweep several quake-hit localities next week which would hamper relief work.

The NMC said Sichuan, Chongqing, and southern Gansu and Shaanxi provinces would see mild rain or thunderstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday, adding torrential rains in some regions were likely to trigger landslides and mud-rock flows, Xinhua said.

It also warned that the quake-stricken areas would see warm weather next week, with temperature hitting 25 to 30 degrees Celsius (77 to 86 Fahrenheit). Experts called for strengthened efforts in carrying out disinfection measures to prevent disease outbreaks.