Workers Killed as China Mourns Quake Victims

The confirmed death toll from the May 12 quake rose to 34,073, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said Monday, according to the Associated Press. Another 9,500 remained buried in Sichuan and more than 29,000 were missing, the provincial government said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Workers, shopkeepers and government officials across the bustling nation of 1.3 billion people paused for three minutes at 2:28 p.m. — exactly one week after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit central China.

In Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, about 1,000 people carried flags and sang the country’s national anthem in an event to commence three days of mourning for quake victims. Members of the government, including President Hu Jintao, were adorned in traditional white flowers and bowed in silence.

While rescue workers continue to search debris for those missing, many have shifted focus to providing shelter and care to survivors and to protecting aid workers as the threat of aftershocks and mudslide continues. Heavy rains in Sichuan province, the area most impacted by the quake, have increased risk to workers and made beginning repair more difficult.

An official confirmed mudslides had caused the deaths of some relief workers but gave no details. “The total death toll is still being counted,” said the official at the Sichuan provincial Communications Department, according to the AP.

“The workers were said to have been repairing damaged roads,” the BBC reported. “Two construction machines and six vehicles were also buried.”

A 6.0 magnitude aftershock in Jiangyou city in Sichuan province Sunday claimed three more lives and injured more than 1,000, the BBC reported. The aftershock was the largest of hundreds in the past week.

As China mourned Monday morning, trade and entertainment activities were suspended, and TV personalities wore black. Traffic was halted across the country.

“I think the three minutes was important because it means that everyone, from the central government down to every individual, is thinking of us, He Ling, a policeman in the city of Pingtong, told Washington Post reporters. “This is worse than a war,” he added.

The Chinese government has called for international assistance since the disaster, allowing countries such as South Korea, Japan and the United States to send aid workers and financial support.

Economists in China have estimated the quake will amount to a $9.5 billion loss, over a fourth of the country’s gross domestic product, the AP reported. Sichuan province is an industrial hub home to many factories and corporations.

Some 14,207 companies in Sichuan province and surrounding areas were damaged by the May 12 quake and 1,387 of their employees killed, a deputy industry minister, Xi Guohua, said at a news conference.