China begins 3 days of mourning for quake victims
A week after China's worst disaster in a generation, 1.3 billion people of China are asked to observe three minutes of silence on Monday as the nation begins 3 days of mourning.Updated: May 19, 2008, 13:10 IST
Flags flew at half-staff, public entertainment was canceled and 1.3 billion people were asked to observe three minutes of silence on Monday as China began three days of mourning for victims of the country's massive earthquake. A week after China's worst disaster in a generation, the hunt for survivors in the rubble turned glum despite remarkable survival tales among thousands buried. Two women were rescued on Monday after being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building at a coal mine in central Sichuan province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The military was still struggling to reach areas cut off by the earthquake, with more than 10,000 discovered stranded in Yinxiui valley near the epicenter, China National Radio said on Monday. There was no information on casualties there, and 600 soldiers were hiking into the area.
The national mourning period was the first in modern China for anyone other than a national leader.
Officials asked for the horns of cars, trains and ships and air raid sirens to sound as people fall silent at 2:28 pm (0628 GMT) exactly one week after the quake splintered thousands of buildings and killed an estimated 50,000 people.
The national flag in Tiananmen Square, solemnly raised every morning at dawn, was flown at half-staff in a ceremony repeatedly broadcast on state television.
The Olympic torch relay a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to August's much-anticipated Beijing Games also was suspended during the mourning period.
The government order for the mourning period said all Internet entertainment and game sites had to be taken off-line and users redirected to sites dedicated to commemorating earthquake victims, the Chinese news Web portal sina.com said.
China's National Grand Theater will cancel or postpone all performances during the three days, and media reports said numerous bars, nightclubs, karaoke parlors and movie theaters had stopped business beginning at midnight in major cities such as Beijing, Shenyang and Changsha.
The Culture Ministry said in a statement it would carry out inspections to ensure orders for a halt to entertainment during the mourning period were followed.
Newspapers across China printed their logos in black and some ran entirely without color. Several front pages were covered in black, with simple messages in white text across the middle, "The nation mourns," "Pray for life," and "National tragedy." Trade on China's stock and commodities exchanges will be suspended for the three-minute period of silence, the Securities Regulatory Commission said on its Web site.
The mourning period begins as hope of finding more trapped survivors dwindled, and preventing hunger and disease among the homeless became more pressing.
Hu Yongcui, 38, said she did not care about the official show of mourning as she headed to Beichuan, near the quake's epicenter, to search for her missing 17-year-old daughter.
"I can't feel anything. I have no words," she said. "I just want to go home. I just want to find my daughter." In a further sign the search for survivors was concluding, Japan said it was considering withdrawing rescue crews to be replaced with an expanded medical team because of declining opportunities to use their technology to hunt for trapped victims.
"It's been a week since the earthquake and at this point chances we can make use of our technology is very limited. It's time to think about what to do with our rescue operation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency.
"There is definitely a need for medical experts, and we can dispatch a team whenever there is a request," he said. The confirmed death toll stood at 32,476, said the State Council, China's Cabinet. The injured numbered more than 220,000. Many bodies lay by roadsides in body bags or wrapped in plastic sheeting, as workers dug burial pits and crematoriums worked overtime.
The World Health Organization warned conditions were ripe for epidemics due to shortages of clean water and warmer, humid weather in Sichuan province _ where the earthquake was centered. The agency urged officials not to be distracted by the false belief that corpses were a health threat.
"Ensuring supply of food and safe drinking water and trying to restore good sanitation are critical because these are basic transmission routes for communicable diseases," said Hans Troedsson, WHO's representative to China.
Experts say while seeing dead bodies left in the open after a disaster can cause distress, they pose little health risk. No major epidemics or other public health hazards had been reported so far. Two field hospitals with 400 beds have been set up in isolated areas and medical staff have reached all townships affected by the quake, according to Xinhua.
At the Wolong Nature Reserve, five staff members were killed in the quake and three giant pandas were missing, forestry spokesman Cao Qingyao told Xinhua. The 60 other giant pandas at the reserve were safe.