China warned yesterday that the death toll from its worst earthquake in a generation could climb past 80,000, as visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged the world’s support.
The UN chief came to Yingxiu, the epicenter of the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that turned Yingxiu, a town of 10,000 people in southwestern Sichuan Province, into rubble.
“My heart was filled with sadness by all this devastation,” Ban told journalists after the visit.
“At the same time I saw myself the leadership of the Chinese ministers who are working hard to overcome this tragedy with the strong spirit of self-help and cooperation, resilience and courage. I was very much moved,” he said.
“If we work hard we can overcome this. The whole world stands behind you and supports you,” Ban said.
Ban met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) as nearby workers in protective suits sprayed disinfectant to curb disease and the stench of corpses.
Wen said the death toll from the tragedy had crossed 60,000, a jump of more than 4,000 from a day earlier.
Fatalities “may further climb to a level of 70,000, 80,000 or more,” said the premier, who held hands with Ban at their outdoor meeting.
China has already said that more than 5.47 million people have been made homeless by the quake and more than 11 million people are expected to be housed in camps as dangerous areas in the quake zone are evacuated.
Russia yesterday sent eight planeloads of aid including tents, blankets and field hospitals, while Saudi Arabia pledged US$50 million.
In a boost for the relief effort, China said yesterday that the main railway connecting Sichuan Province’s capital, Chengdu, with the central city of Baoji had reopened after more than 12 days.
The government has said it would take up to three years to reconstruct Sichuan, where one in five people in quake-hit areas has been made homeless.