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Quake Is Formidable Challenge to China’s Government

Rescue and relief efforts continue in China as the death toll from Monday's 7.9-magnitude earthquake neared 15,000 and is expected to rise, with tens of thousands still buried in rubble. An analyst examines how the country and its government have handled the disaster.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Three days after the Sichuan earthquake struck, rescue efforts continue in China. We start with a report from Bill Neely of Independent Television News on the road from Chengdu to the epicenter.

  • BILL NEELY, ITV News Correspondent:

    China's army on the march to the heart of their national disaster, tens of thousands on the road to rescue the tens of thousands of their countrymen still trapped or missing. And we went with them.

    It is impossible to drive these roads. The only way to reach the dozens of devastated towns and villages is on foot.

    These troops have another 25 miles to march before they reach their target town. In addition, 9,000 paratroopers are being flown into the epicenter of the quake. The Chinese army is throwing everything it has at this disaster.

    China's leaders have ordered in 50,000 troops, determined to show the world they will overcome this disaster. Even a huge dam doesn't stand in their way.

    Into a town just off the road, we join a rescue team. They're on the run, too. Voices have been heard in a block of flats, survivors 48 hours after the tremor. They find four old women who'd been playing cards. Three are dead. The fourth very gently is lowered down.

    "Hold her tight," they shout. She is bruised, but at 82, she's lucid and she's lucky.

    In a nearby street, they dig and tear with their hands at the fallen concrete, but this was not a tale that ended well. The shop owner, a wife, mother, and sister to those who labored was found dead.

    And along the streets of the towns near the epicenter, the dead lie everywhere beneath blankets or concrete, two young men and an elderly woman here, unclaimed. The heavy machinery is a sign that survivors are unlikely, fewer and fewer now being found.

    And all along this road, there are the terrible cries of mothers who've lost their children.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Next, desperation in the town of Hanwang. ITN's Lindsey Hilsum reports.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV News Correspondent:

    "Please," she cries, "get my husband out." How many are trapped like him in the rubble of Hanwang? No one knows yet, but hundreds, maybe thousands, are missing here.

    This building housed the office of a mining company. There are people trapped inside. A body is visible amongst the rubble. The crane arrived. Maybe they can dig people out; maybe someone could even be alive.

    George Chen's brother-in-law, Joe Yoyun, was a sales manager working in the office, aged 43.

    Can you just tell me what's happening?

  • GEORGE CHEN, Chinese Citizen:

    We just believe there are about six or eight people dying inside because they were jammed inside the staircase. We just want to give them hope, since we have manpower here.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    A rescue worker is winched up. By looking down into the building, he can assess whether there's anything they can do.

  • GEORGE CHEN:

    And, you know, at that time when the earthquake happened, they were trying to escape. However, they were stuck up inside a staircase. They just don't have the chance — did not have the chance.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Do you think they've…

  • GEORGE CHEN:

    We want to give them hope. Be careful.

  • LINDSEY HILSUM:

    Falling masonry makes everyone flee. Eventually, the rescue workers say they can do nothing right now, not even get the corpses out.

    As the crane is about to leave, hope turns to despair, turns to anger and desperation. And then, new fear: an aftershock sends everyone fleeing again.

    As we drove around the area near Hanwang, we saw people camped at the side of the road. Some are begging for food. They need water.

    A small van which brought a few bottles to the town of Manchu was mobbed.

    Volunteers, some mobilized by the Red Cross, have set up a field hospital in a market. The injured were stunned and silent. Lives were destroyed in less than a minute.

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