Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 12:38 UK

China earthquake toll jumps again

Two children sit under a plastic sheet in Deyang on 21 May 2008
Officials say more tents are needed to help the millions of homeless

The death toll from the massive earthquake in south-west China rose again, as an official said more than five million buildings had collapsed.

The vice-governor of Sichuan province said 55,239 people were now known to have died in the 12 May quake.

Li Chengyun appealed for more tents and set a three-year goal to rebuild towns and infrastructure in the region.

Meanwhile, concern is growing over a number of new lakes formed by the force of the earthquake.

Thirty-four lakes were created in the province when landslides blocked rivers, Xinhua news agency said.

satellite images show lake forming
Satellite images reveal a lake forming in Beichuan County

Eight held more than 3 million cubic metres of water and one lake, less than 3km (two miles) from Beichuan town, had doubled in size in four days.

Officials are monitoring the lakes and have sent experts to assess them, the agency said.

Forecasters predict heavy rain in the region next week, which could further raise the water levels in the lakes.

At a news conference, Mr Li said that 24,949 people remained missing and 281,006 were injured.

More than 5.47 million people were homeless and 5.46 million buildings had collapsed, he said.

China's leaders have promised a 70bn yuan ($10 bn; 5bn) reconstruction fund.

The government has also told Chinese banks to forgive debts owed by uninsured survivors to revive Sichuan's economy.

Debts 'write-off'

The China Banking Regulatory Commission gave no indication of how much that might cost or whether banks might receive government aid to make up for any losses.

Financial analysts estimate as little as 5% of the multi-billion dollar losses could have insurance cover.


On Friday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid his second visit to the region, visiting the temporary site of Beichuan Middle School.

Beichuan was devastated by the earthquake and officials say the town may be rebuilt on a new site.

More than 1,000 of the Middle School's students and teachers died in the earthquake.

"Today when we see the children, we see the hope of the quake areas and the hope of the whole nation," he told the students.

China has ordered the immediate construction of one million temporary small homes to house people without shelter.

At the same time bulldozers have been flattening ground to make way for more tent camps in worst-hit areas.

The foreign ministry says 3.3 million tents are needed and on Thursday, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited a tent factory to call for increased production.

Beijing declared three days of official mourning for victims of the earthquake, during which time the Olympic torch relay was suspended.

It has now restarted and its passage through Shanghai this morning began with a short silence for those killed in the quake.

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