The confirmed death toll from a massive earthquake in southwestern China climbed past 12,000 on Tuesday, with many thousands more buried under rubble, state press reported on Tuesday.
In Sichuan province, where the 7.8-magnitude quake struck on Monday, more than 12,000 people were killed and at least 9,400 other buried, Xinhua said, citing the province’s vice-governor.
However, highlighting the confusion over trying to determine the exact toll of the disaster, Xinhua also quoted officials from just one city in Sichuan as saying 3,629 people had been killed and another 18,645 people buried there.
That city, Mianyang, may not have been the worst hit.
Mianyang neighbours Wenchuan district, a mountainous region of over 100,000 people that was the site of the epicentre of the quake.
Few reports have emerged out of Wenchuan, which remains largely cut off from rescuers due to the destruction of roads.
According to the Sichuan vice-governor, Li Chengyun, 7,395 people had died in Mianyang, 2,648 were killed in nearby Deyang city and 959 fatalities were recorded in the provincial capital, Chengdu.
While Sichuan suffered the brunt of the latest quake, neighbouring areas also recorded casualties. Xinhua news agency had earlier quoted the ministry as saying 213 people were confirmed dead in Gansu province, 85 in Shaanxi, one in Yunnan, and eight in the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing.
The national disaster relief headquarters, however, earlier reported 50 dead in Chongqing.
Torch relay scaled down
The Beijing Olympics torch relay will be scaled down in the wake of the earthquake, a spokesman for the Games organising committee said on Tuesday.
Committee spokesman Sun Weide said that, starting from Wednesday’s leg in the eastern province of Jiangxi, the relay would be cut back and that one minute of silence would be observed before runners set off.
"The relay will be scaled down starting from Wednesday and procedures will be simplified," Sun said. "The one minute of silence will reflect our concern for the earthquake victims."
Sun said the length of the relay would be unaffected by the decision and that there were no plans to modify the route at this stage.
"We will be cutting down on the speeches and the singing and dancing that have marked the relay so far and it will be a much simpler affair with fewer people involved," he said.
Tuesday’s relay through the southeastern province of Fujian carried on as normal, drawing some fierce criticism in Internet chatrooms who said the moved was "inhuman".