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Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 09:37 UK

China praises world's quake aid

Chinese rescuers search for quake survivors in Yingxiu town in Wenchuan county on 17 May 2008
The final death toll is expected to reach at least 50,000

Chinese President Hu Jintao has voiced his gratitude for the international aid following Monday's massive earthquake.

"I express heartfelt thanks to the foreign governments and international friends," Mr Hu was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Offers of help in the relief effort from home and abroad have now surpassed $860m (440m), Chinese officials say.

The number of confirmed deaths of the quake in the south-western Sichuan province has now risen to 32,477.

More than 10,600 people are believed to be still trapped, Xinhua said, citing regional officials. They put the number of injured at 220,109.

The final death toll following the 7.9-magnitude quake is expected to reach at least 50,000 people, Chinese officials estimate.

Nuclear facilities in the affected area have been confirmed to be safe, the ministry of environmental protection's Nuclear Safety Department said, Xinhua has reported.

China has a research reactor, two nuclear fuel production sites and two nuclear weapon facilities in Sichuan, all between 60 and 145km (40-90 miles) from the epicentre, according to the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.

Aftershocks

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

QUAKE STATISTICS
map
Up to Sunday 18 May:
32,477 dead
220,109 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

The city - that lies near the epicentre of the quake - was reduced to ruins.

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

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. Rescue work has also been hampered by heavy rain in some areas.

Mass graves

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

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

It said 220,109 people had been recorded injured, not just in Sichuan, but in Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Hubei, Henan, and Guizhou provinces.

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

The first aid supplied by the US has arrived, with an air force plane loaded with tents, lanterns and 15,000 meals landing in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.

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

A man cries amid debris in Sichuan province, 15 May, 2008

However, a British rescue team standing by in Hong Kong is returning home after being refused permission to travel to the earthquake zone.

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 in the quake zone are being told to wear face masks and disinfectant teams are out in force, even though the World Health Organisation says there is little significant risk of disease from unburied bodies.



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