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Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 19:02 UK

Quake effort resumes after panic

People and rescue workers leave Beichuan, China, 17/05/08
Thousands of troops, rescue workers and civilians fled to higher ground

Rescue efforts are resuming in Beichuan in China, after the entire city was evacuated amid fears that it could be engulfed by a river bursting its banks.

The city was reduced to ruins by Monday's earthquake, but efforts are still going on to find and dig survivors from the rubble.

But the search was halted on Saturday as rumours of a flood saw a stampede of people fleeing to higher ground.

Beichuan is near the epicentre of the quake believed to have killed 50,000.

On Saturday the number of confirmed deaths rose to 28,881. The Chinese authorities say that about five million people have been made homeless following the 7.9-magnitude quake.

Several people were dug out of the rubble on Saturday, including a 31-year-old woman in Deyang city, and a 33-year-old miner in Shifang, both about 124 hours after being buried.

The region shuddered again as a strong aftershock - measured by the US Geological Survey at 6.0 - struck at 0108 Sunday local time (1508 GMT Saturday).

There have been hundreds of aftershocks since Monday's quake, some causing landslides which have made conditions even more difficult.

Panic

The BBC's Paul Danahar in Beichuan says after the flood alert the city went from a scene of rescue and relief into mayhem.

"Everybody just ran - rescuers, army relief teams, medical workers and locals - and people who were in the process of being rescued had to be left behind," he said.

QUAKE STATISTICS
map
Up to Friday 16 May:
28,881 dead
198,347 injured
145 aftershocks above level 4, 23 above level 5, biggest 6.1
34,000 medical staff in quake zone
181,460 tents, 220,000 quilts despatched
6bn Chinese yuan ($860m, 440m) received in donations, from China and abroad
Drinking water for 7m people restored
Source: Chinese government

"We were in the process of filming a man about to be pulled out after hours of digging and the rescue team had to abandon him and run."

The Xinhua news agency warned that a lake, formed by landslides blocking a river, "may burst its bank at any time".

However, the authorities later said the city was not under threat from the water.

Our correspondent saw troops returning to the city to resume the rescue effort, but no civilians.

Those inhabitants who had stayed in the city after the quake, or had returned to check on their property or search for loved ones, appeared now to be staying on the surrounding hillsides.

"It is not surprising," he says. "This entire community has been shaken to its core, they are surrounded by unstable buildings which threaten to topple at any moment, and the people have been deeply traumatised by what has happened."

Mass graves

The Chinese government has organised a massive search and rescue effort. It released figures on Saturday demonstrating the scale of the operation.

It said 198,347 people had been recorded injured, not just in Sichuan, where the quake struck, but in Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Hubei, Henan, and Guizhou provinces.

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A woman found under the rubble some 124 hours after the quake

On Friday 26,801 personnel were sent on rescue and relief missions, while 34,000 medical staff were "in the frontline", it said.

During the day 2,538 people were recovered from the ruins - 165 of whom were still alive.

It said some 181,460 tents, 220,000 quilts, and 170,000 cotton-padded garments had been despatched to the disaster area.

Rescue teams from South Korea, Singapore and Russia have joined Japanese and Taiwanese experts taking part in the massive search.

The specialist teams are equipped with sniffer dogs, and fibre-optic cameras and heat sensors to detect people buried under the rubble.

But experts say the chances of finding people alive are diminishing, and increasingly it is dead bodies which are being retrieved.

The authorities have resorted to burying the bodies in mass graves.

People fleeing from Beichuan 17/5/08

People in the quake zone are being told to wear face masks and disinfectant teams are out in force.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Chengdu says that five days on China's efforts are now squarely focused on getting help to those who survived the earthquake.

Rubble from destroyed buildings is being taken away, streets are being cleared and broken roads repaired.

In some of the worst hit areas, people now have tents, fresh water, and something to eat.

The authorities said temporary water supplies had been restored to 70% of quake-hit towns, and that communications and road links were being reopened.

But in more inaccessible parts of the province, the authorities are still struggling to get help to survivors.



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