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China Raises Death Toll, Struggles to Aid Homeless

BY Admin  May 20, 2008 at 11:05 AM EST

Displaced Man in Sichuan Province

A government statement said the number killed had now topped 40,000, and state news agency Xinhua reported that a further 32,000 were missing, according to news agencies.

Authorities had previously said they expected the final death toll to exceed 50,000. More than 247,000 were injured.

The government was setting up temporary housing for quake victims unable to find shelter with relatives, but there was a “desperate need for tents” to accommodate them, said Jiang Li, vice minister of civil affairs.

She told reporters in Beijing that nearly 280,000 tents had been shipped to the area and 700,000 more ordered, with factories working triple shifts to meet demand, according to the Associated Press.

Five million people lost their homes in the quake, she said.

“Despite generous donations, the disaster is so great that victims still face a challenge in finding living accommodations,” Jiang said.

China has said it would accept foreign medical assistance, as the relief efforts increasingly moved from searching for survivors to caring for the homeless. Crews of doctors from Russia, Japan, Germany and Italy are among those responding to the call, according to media reports.

Other countries and groups have also offered to send medical teams, but China has not given permission to allow all of them to help.

“Given the situation, and difficulties in the area, including transportation and telecommunications, it is not possible for us to accept all of the rescue and medical teams to engage in relief work,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

In Chengdu, thousands of residents prepared makeshift shelters to sleep outside Tuesday, too afraid to stay overnight in their homes due to fresh aftershocks. A forecast of heavy rain further hampered the efforts of aid workers and soldiers to aid the homeless and injured.

Thousands of quake survivors have slept in cars or in the open, frightened by government warnings of a potential strong aftershock. The region has been rumbled by dozens of aftershocks since the May 12 quake.

Anger is also reportedly building among bereaved parents in Sichuan over the way many school buildings had collapsed, burying classrooms full of children. In one town, in a rare public protest, hundreds demanded punishment for anyone guilty of shoddy construction, Reuters reported.

“How come all the houses didn’t fall down, but the school did? And how come that happened in so many places?” demanded Zhao, whose two daughters were crushed to death in Juyuan town.

“We want a memorial day for the children, but we also want criminal prosecution of those responsible, no matter who they are,” Zhao said.