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Death Toll from China Quake Could Reach 80,000

BY Admin  May 22, 2008 at 4:00 PM EST

Quake Victims Sleep in Jiujang Stadium; AP Photo

The confirmed number of dead rose nearly 10,000 from the day before to 51,151, Cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin told a news conference, according to the Associated Press. Another 29,328 people remained missing and nearly 300,000 were hurt in the May 12 quake, he said.

Previously, authorities had said they expected the final death toll to exceed 50,000.

Relief efforts are largely focused on the 5 million homeless and the millions of others facing disease and other woes.

“There have been constant aftershocks and the rainy season starts in June … the earthquake has loosened the mountains,” Yun Xiaosu, vice minister of land and resources said, according to Reuters. “It is very likely to cause frequent geological disasters and to once again bring major losses to the quake area.”

Engineers are also monitoring more than 30 new lakes formed by landslides into river valleys, worried they could burst causing flashfloods into towns and tent cities.

The government called on the international community to provide more relief aid, saying they needed more than 3 million tents and that just 400,000 had so far reached the disaster zone.

President Hu Jintao visited tent manufacturers in the eastern province of Zhejiang to ask them to speed up production of tents for those displaced.

“To have enough tents is an urgent task for us,” he said, according to Reuters.

Hu also chaired a meeting on the quake by China’s highest governing body, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, where leaders pledged to continue the rescue effort “to the last village,” according to a statement.

In Beichuan county, two-thirds of the population was killed in the quake, leaving survivors to desperately seek shelter.

“It will be a long and arduous task for us to relocate the people and reconstruct the region,” Premier Wen Jiabao said, according to state television.

Some of the displaced in Sichuan province are being taken to the Jiujiang Sports Stadium in Mianyang city, which is about two hours from the capital of Chengdu.

On top of providing shelter to millions, aid workers are also tasked with finding care for the hundreds of thousands wounded in the quake and battling the onslaught of diseases that threaten to take more lives.

With hospitals in Sichuan province already over capacity, the Chinese government sent extra trains to take the injured to other parts of the country, state media said, according to Reuters.

Chinese and international health workers are also concerned about the threat of plague, meningitis, hepatitis, encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever and cholera.

“We are most worried about the plague, so environmental hygiene is of top importance. Such a huge movement of people invariably means that all sorts of viruses and bacteria move with them,” a health official in Mianyang told Reuters. “We are also afraid of meningitis.”

International leaders have responded with vaccines, tents, money and food, and thousands have paid their respects by visiting local Chinese Embassy.

President Bush, along with first lady Laura Bush, visited the American Chinese Embassy Tuesday to sign a condolences book, the Associated Press reported.

“I admire the generosity of spirit and the strength of character shown the by the Chinese people as you confront this natural disaster,” Mr. Bush wrote in a page-long message. “Our country stands ready to assist in any manner that China deems helpful.”

The Beijing Olympic torch relay was set to resume its journey through China on Thursday after a three-day halt to mark a national period of mourning for quake victims, state media reported.

The relay will restart where it left off on Sunday — in the port city of Ningbo in eastern Zhejiang province — without missing any stops, Xinhua news agency said, according to Agence France-Presse.