China warned the death toll from this week’s earthquake could soar to 50,000, while the government issued a public appeal on Thursday for rescue equipment as it struggled to cope with the disaster.
More than 72 hours after the quake rattled central China, rescuers appeared to shift from poring through downed buildings for survivors to the grim duty of searching for bodies — with 10 million directly affected by Monday’s temblor.
In Luoshui town — on the road to an industrial zone in Shifang city where two chemical plants collapsed, burying hundreds — troops used a mechanical shovel to dig a pit on a hilltop to bury the dead.
Police and militia in Dujiangyan pulverised rubble with cranes and backhoes while crews used shovels to pick around larger pieces of debris. On one sidestreet, about a dozen bodies were laid on a sidewalk, while incense sticks placed in a pile of sand sent smoke into the air as a tribute and to dull the stench of death.
The bodies were later lifted onto a flatbed truck, joining some half-dozen corpses. Ambulances sped past, sirens wailing, filled with survivors. Workers asked those left homeless to sign up for temporary housing, although it was unclear where they would live.
Not all hope of finding survivors was lost. After more than three days trapped under debris, a 22-year-old woman was pulled to safety in Dujiangyan. Covered in dust and peering out through a small opening, she was shown waving on state television shortly before being rescued. “I was confident that you were coming to rescue me. I’m alive. I’m so happy,” the unnamed woman said on CCTV.
One earthquake expert said the time for rescues was growing short.“Generally speaking, anyone buried in an earthquake can survive without water and food for three days,” said Gu Linsheng, a researcher with Tsinghua University’s Emergency Management Research Centre. “After that, it’s usually a miracle for anyone to survive.”