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Page last updated at 18:47 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 19:47 UK

China quake toll close to 15,000

Survivors from Wenchuan County have had to flee the area on foot

Nearly 15,000 people died in the devastating earthquake that hit China's Sichuan province, the official Xinhua news agency has reported.

More than 25,000 are still trapped in the rubble two days after the 7.9 quake struck, flattening homes, schools and entire villages and cutting roads.

Soldiers have begun to reach the isolated epicentre by helicopter and on foot, bringing much needed supplies.

The government has meanwhile downplayed fears about the stability of a dam.

State media had earlier reported that soldiers were working to plug cracks in the Zipingpu Dam near the hard-hit city of Dujiangyan, which they described as "extremely dangerous".

But late on Wednesday, a manager of the Zipingpu Development Company said there was no risk of collapse, according to Xinhua state news agency.

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Footage of when earthquake struck, filmed by motorcyclist in Chengdu

No damage has been reported to the massive Three Gorges Dam, also in Sichuan province, but there were concerns about dozens of smaller dams closer to the epicentre.

Sichuan's Vice-Governor Li Chengyun said incomplete figures suggested 14,463 people were dead, another 14,051 were missing, 25,788 were buried in the debris and 64,746 had been injured, Xinhua reports.

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Officials reached the town of Yingxiu, in Wenchuan County, to find the devastation was worse than expected - out of the town's population of 10,000, only 2,300 have been found alive.

The head of a police unit sent into the disaster zone said the losses had been severe.

"Some towns basically have no houses left," Wang Yi, told Sichuan Online news site. "They have all been razed to the ground."

The BBC's Michael Bristow says there are collapsed buildings all along the road to the nearby city of Beichuan.

"We are all Chinese people - we've got to help"
Du Yingbi

Stadiums have been put to use to house the displaced.

Meteorologists are forecasting a small break in the poor weather that has hampered aid efforts.

Helicopters have now been able to fly into the quake zone to take food, drinking water and medicine to Yingxiu - one of the towns in the mountainous area where the quake was centred.

But the weather remains cloudy and more rain is expected at the end of the week, said the National Meteorological Centre.

Slow effort

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has flown to the epicentre to see relief work, having met survivors elsewhere.

RECENT CHINA QUAKES
March, 2008: 7.2 quake in Xinjiang - damage limited
February 2003: 6.8 quake in Xinjiang - at least 94 dead, 200 hurt
January 1998: 6.2 quake in rural Hebei - at least 47 dead, 2,000 hurt
April 1997: 6.6 quake hits Xinjiang - 9 dead, 60 hurt
January 1997: 6.4 quake in Xinjiang - 50 dead, 40 hurt

The government has despatched tens of thousands of soldiers to the region to dig any remaining survivors out of the rubble and bring food, medicine and drinking water to the survivors.

Roads in the mountainous area have been badly damaged by the earthquake or have been covered by landslides.

Many soldiers and rescue workers have been making their way to cut off areas by foot. Others have parachuted in or have arrived by helicopter.

Workers are digging through the rubble of collapsed buildings with their bare hands.

Rescue workers now say hope is beginning to run out for more than 1,000 people thought to be trapped in a collapsed school building in Juyuan township, near Dujiangyan.


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