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    More than 80,000 dead or missing in China (UPDATED)

    Reuters
    22.05.2008 - 11:46 | Son Güncelleme:

    More than 80,000 people are now confirmed dead or missing after China's worst earthquake in decades, the government said on Thursday. Previously, authorities had said they expected the final death toll to exceed 50,000.

    State Council Information Office figures showed that the number of dead now exceeded 51,000, an increase of 10,000 on the previous day's toll. It said more than 29,000 were still missing.  

    The State Council (cabinet) added that more than 288,000 people had been injured by the 7.9 magnitude quake in southwest China on May 12.

    Hundreds of aftershocks, heavy snow in mountains close to the epicentre and a forecast of more rain have compounded difficulties for military, government and private workers trying to deliver aid and provide shelter.

    Some 5 million people were left homeless by the quake. In the countryside, where countless homes are too damaged or unsafe to live in, many farmers live in encampments of makeshift shelters.

    China on Thursday raised the possibility that U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon might visit Sichuan, the southwestern province worst hit by the quake.

    Ban took "a message of hope" to Myanmar's cyclone victims on Thursday and pressed the military government to allow large-scale international aid for the 2.4 million people left destitute.

    "As to whether or not Ban Ki-moon will come to China, especially the disaster zone, after visiting Myanmar, China is currently still in talks with the United Nations about this," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference.

    Where Myanmar's late response to the disaster has angered Western governments and aid donors, China's quick efforts have won worldwide praise.

    "I think it is not an exaggeration to say that this is probably the most swift and effective response to a large-scale natural disaster in peacetime by any government in history," said Wenran Jiang, a political scientist at the University of Alberta.

    The government again appealed to the international community to offer tents and materials to build temporary housing, saying that they needed more than 3 millions tents and that just 400,000 had so far reached the disaster zone.

    FLAG FLIES OVER RUINS

    Government offices of Beichuan, a county levelled in the quake killing two-thirds of the population, reopened on Thursday in a neighbouring county to oversee rebuilding from scratch.

    The road into Yingxiu, the epicentre of the quake which bore the brunt of the shock with about two thirds of buildings flattened and the rest unusable, is now passable for vehicles.

    A red Chinese flag flew over the ruined township but the road remains a treacherous obstacle course of landslides and collapsed concrete.

    Local authorities plan to rebuild the Beichuan county seat at a new site in Anxian county, according to a preliminary plan yet to be approved by government.

    Not a single building remains safe in the town where 8,600 of the 13,000 residents were killed, Xinhua news agency quoted Beichuan's Communist Party chief, Song Ming, as saying.

    "Safety is the top priority in selecting a new location and reconstruction," said Song Ming. "We plan to build a monument and a memorial to commemorate the quake victims on the previous location."

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