Page last updated at 04:55 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 05:55 UK

Warning panics China quake zone

Residents of Mianyang, Sichuan province, leave their homes after aftershock warning - 19/5/2008
People in Sichuan are jittery after dozens of aftershocks

Tens of thousands of people in China's quake-hit Sichuan province have rushed from their homes after a government warning of a possible major aftershock.

People slept on the streets or drove to open ground after the warning was broadcast on television.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit on 12 May left over 71,000 people dead, buried or missing. On Monday, three days of mourning for the victims began.

Early on Tuesday, one more survivor was pulled from a collapsed building.

A 31-year-old man was rescued from the rubble of a hydro-electric plant in Yingxiu, near the quake's epicentre, after being trapped for nearly 179 hours, the official Xinhua news agency said.


Man pulled alive from collapsed building eight days after quake

Such success stories are increasingly rare as rescue workers turn to the recovery of bodies from the rubble and to helping the millions of people made homeless by the disaster.

The government says 34,073 are known to have died so far and the figure is expected to rise much higher.

Multiple aftershocks

On Monday, a statement from the National Seismology Bureau was read out on television, triggering the panic.

Rescue workers in Beichuan take a break on 18 May 2008

People in cities across the quake-hit area rushed out of their homes carrying pillows and blankets.

Roads out of Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu, were jammed as people headed for the open ground of the province's agricultural plains.

The US Geological Survey reported an aftershock of magnitude 5.2 in the region on Monday night.

Government seismologists appeared on television on Tuesday, trying to calm people's fears.

"Just because you can feel aftershocks, it doesn't mean they will hurt you," said Han Weiding, a researcher with the local seismological bureau.

"Of course, that doesn't mean you should stand in harm's way," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

It is not the first panic to hit the earthquake-weary residents of Sichuan.

The entire population of the city of Beichuan, close to the epicentre, rushed for high ground on Saturday amid fears that it could be engulfed by a river bursting its banks.

Dozens of aftershocks have rattled the area, the strongest has measured 6.1.

Chinese media said mudslides have buried 200 relief workers in the past three days.

Tents needed

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

All public entertainment has been cancelled and presenters on state television are wearing black. The Olympic torch relay has been suspended for three days and flags are flying at half-mast.

In addition to those dead or buried, more than 220,000 people were injured in the quake.

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

The quake was centred in the mountains north-west of Chengdu.

Nick Mackie was one of the first foreign journalists to reach the Yinchangguo region, close to the epicentre.

He says the popular tourist region was devastated first by the earthquake and then by massive landslides that swept away villages and buried hotels, guest houses and farmers' home stays.

An unknown number of villagers and tourists lie under the rocks and mud, he says.

Although across the region a few survivors are still being pulled from beneath collapsed buildings, the rescue effort has now focused on providing food, shelter and drinking water for the millions of people affected by the earthquake.

The foreign ministry appealed on Monday to the international community to provide tents for the more than 4.5m people whose homes have been destroyed.

To help raise money for the long-term relief effort, the government is to sell special stamps starting next month. Thirteen million of the stamps, featuring three interlocking hearts on a red background, will be sold, potentially raising as much as $4m (2m).

The government said $1.5bn had been donated for disaster relief.

Persistent rain is compounding the misery for the homeless.

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

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