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Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 11:41 UK

China in mourning over earthquake

Crowds in Tiananmen Square, Beijing
People gathered in central Beijing to remember the quake victims

China has begun three days of mourning for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province.

Flags are flying at half-mast and a nationwide silence has been observed to mark the time it struck a week ago.

More than 71,000 people are dead, buried or missing following Monday's 7.9 magnitude quake, state media say. More than 220,000 people were injured.

And as aid efforts continued, the media said mudslides had buried 200 relief workers in the last three days.

A local official said there had been some fatalities, but the numbers of dead and injured were not known.

The workers were said to have been repairing damaged roads. Two construction machines and six vehicles were also buried, Xinhua news agency said, quoting a transport ministry official.

Strong aftershocks are continuing to shake the region, hampering the rescue effort.

On Sunday, a tremor with a magnitude of 6.0 killed three people and injured 1,000 more in Jiangyou city, in Sichuan province's Mianyang County.

Rescue workers in Beichuan take a break on 18 May 2008

Continuing heavy rain in Sichuan is also raising fears of new flooding and landslides.

The relief effort is now shifting towards providing food, medical care and shelter for the millions of survivors.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government said the country was expected to make direct economic losses of 67bn yuan ($9.5bn), approximately 0.27% of Gross Domestic Product, as a result of the disaster.

Sichuan is not a major industrial base, but there was extensive damage to factories and mines in neighbouring Gansu province and Chongqing municipality.

Trading halt

The mourning comes as hopes fade of finding many more earthquake survivors. The total number of confirmed dead rose to 34,073, the Chinese government said.

The BBC's Quentin Somerville in Beichuan says this is the first time China as a nation has marked an occasion like this for its people.

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China mourning earthquake victims

At a dawn ceremony in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, soldiers raised the national flag and then lowered it to half-mast to mark the start of official mourning.

All public entertainment has been cancelled and presenters on state television are wearing black.

At 1428 local time (0628 GMT), people across the country fell silent for three minutes as air-raid sirens and car horns wailed.

QUAKE STATISTICS
map
Up to Monday 19 May:
34,073 dead
9,509 buried and 29,418 missing in Sichuan province
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

Traffic froze and construction workers downed tools, while in Beijing's Tiananmen Square thousands gathered, heads bowed, for a solemn military ceremony.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beichuan reported that vehicles across the city sounded their horns to mark the event.

Rescue workers laid wreaths outside the town school, resuming their work immediately after the silence.

Trading at stock exchanges halted while the silence was observed.

China has also suspended the Olympic torch relay during the three-day mourning period.

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

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.

But on its website, China's foreign ministry appealed to the international community for more tents, in what correspondents say is an indication of the magnitude of the problems faced in housing the homeless.

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

More rescues

There are still stories of survivors being pulled from the rubble.

A week on from the earthquake, an elderly woman was rescued in Beichuan county suffering from an infection and many broken bones, state media said, while another was extracted from a collapsed residential building in Deyang city.

But other stories illustrated how hopes for those still trapped are fading fast.

Video pictures emerged of a man wedged under fallen masonry. He was still alive, and was lent a phone to speak to his wife.

Rescuers later managed to extract him, but not in time to save his life.

Persistent rain is compounding the misery for millions of people made homeless by the quake.

And the weather may deteriorate, with rains turning torrential later in the week, potentially triggering landslides, Chinese forecasters said.



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