China stood still and sirens wailed yesterday to mourn tens of thousands of earthquake victims in the country’s deadliest natural disaster in a generation.
Construction workers, shopkeepers and bureaucrats across the nation paused for three minutes of tribute at 2:28pm — exactly one week after the magnitude 8.0 quake hit central China. Air-raid sirens and the horns of cars and buses sounded in memory of the dead — expected to surpass 50,000.
Rescuers also briefly halted work in the disaster zone, where the hunt for survivors turned glum despite remarkable survival tales among thousands buried. Two women were rescued yesterday after being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building at a coal mine in Sichuan Province, where the quake was centered, the Xinhua news agency reported.
In an indication of the challenge in dealing with millions of homeless and injured survivors, China said it would accept foreign medical teams and issued an international appeal for tents.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) said in a statement that tents were a priority “because many houses were toppled in the quake and because it is the rainy season.”
In the quake area, more than 200 relief workers were buried over the past three days by mudslides while working to repair roads in Sichuan, Xinhua reported.
An official confirmed there had been mudslides causing some deaths but gave no details.
“The total death toll is still being counted,” said the official at the Sichuan provincial Communications Department who only gave his last name, Shi.
More landslides were predicted by the Central Meteorological Observatory, with heavy rains forecast this week for some areas close to the epicenter.
The military was still struggling to reach areas cut off by the earthquake, with more than 10,000 people discovered stranded in Yinxiui valley near the epicenter, China National Radio said yesterday.
There was no information on casualties there, and 600 soldiers were hiking into the area.
The confirmed death toll from the May 12 quake rose to 34,073, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said yesterday. Officials have said they expect the dead to number more than 50,000, while 245,108 people remained injured.
Quake-related losses to companies totaled 67 billion yuan (US$9.5 billion), Deputy Industry Minister Xi Guohua (奚國華) said yesterday.
During three days of national mourning ordered by the government, flags were to fly at half-staff and entertainment events were canceled — an unprecedented outpouring of state sympathy on a level normally reserved for dead leaders.
The Olympic torch relay, a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to August’s much-anticipated Beijing games, was suspended.
China’s newspapers and Internet news portals went black as well, banishing colorful headlines.
The Beijing Morning Post ran an entirely black front page apart from the headline: “China in Tears,” followed by the confirmed official death toll of 32,476, and banned color photographs from yesterday’s edition.
The People’s Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, jettisoned its trademark bright red masthead, running a front page in black and white set off by a photograph in color showing China’s President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤)comforting a child in tears.
The Beijing Times was also in black, with the front page showing a photograph of a candle with the caption “Day of Mourning,” followed by the death toll.