Flags flew at half-staff, public entertainment was canceled and 1. 3 billion people were asked to observe three minutes of silence as China...
BEICHUAN, China — Flags flew at half-staff, public entertainment was canceled and 1.3 billion people were asked to observe three minutes of silence as China began three days of mourning today for the victims of the nation’s massive earthquake.
Officials asked for the horns of cars, trains and ships and air-raid sirens to sound as people fell silent at 2:28 p.m. — exactly one week after the quake splintered thousands of buildings and killed an estimated 50,000 people. Chinese news portal sina.com said the government had ordered all visitors to online entertainment and game pages to be redirected to Web sites dedicated to commemorating earthquake victims.
The Olympic torch relay — a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to August’s much-anticipated Beijing Games — was also suspended during the mourning period.
Hope of finding more trapped survivors dwindled, and preventing hunger and disease among the homeless became more pressing.
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“It will soon be too late” to find trapped survivors, said Koji Fujiya, deputy leader of a Japanese rescue team working in Beichuan, a town reduced to rubble. His team pulled 10 bodies out of Beichuan’s high school Sunday.
The steady run of rescue news flashed by the official Xinhua news agency has slowed. Just three rescues were reported Sunday, including a woman in Yingxiu town who was reached by soldiers who dug a 15-foot tunnel through the wreckage of a flattened power station and had to amputate both her legs to set her free, after 150 hours.
“She was in a delirious state” and told rescuers to leave her alone, thinking she was already in a hospital, Xinhua quoted rescuer Ma Gang as saying. “We fed her milk and water, and her family was there to reassure her.”
A week after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck China’s western provinces, doctors were confronting a horrible reality among the ruins: Many of those who survived the quake are facing conditions that still threaten their lives.
Deep infections and rotted limbs are just part of the problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that China must ramp up efforts to ensure safe drinking water, adequate food and proper sanitation at camps where tens of thousands of homeless survivors fleeing from the mountains have taken refuge.
China says no disease outbreak has yet emerged from the quake zone, where 36,000 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel treat 122,252 people admitted to hospitals. Relief workers in towns leveled by the quake, wary of disease, sprayed disinfectant on rubble, and the Health Ministry voiced concern that cholera may emerge.
Conditions for such outbreaks remain ripe, and the danger in the area of the quake persists. Dozens of aftershocks have rumbled through the region, extending the damage and fear of survivors. A magnitude-6 temblor on Sunday killed three people, injured more than 1,000 and caused further damage to houses and roads, Xinhua reported.
With more bodies discovered, the confirmed death toll rose to 32,476, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, reported. The injured numbered more than 220,000.
Many bodies lay by roadsides in body bags or wrapped in plastic sheeting as authorities struggled to deal with the sheer number of corpses by digging burial pits and working crematoriums overtime.
Dozens of students were buried in new graves dotting a green hillside overlooking quake rubble, the small mounds of dirt failing to block the pungent smell of decay wafting from the ground. Most graves were unmarked, though several had wooden markers with names scribbled on them.
“The main needs now are water, sanitation and food. Ensuring supply of food and safe drinking water and trying to restore good sanitation are critical because these are the basic transmission routes for communicable diseases,” said Dr. Hans Troedsson, the WHO chief in China.
More than 15 million houses collapsed in Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan and Hubei provinces, and 5.7 million people were evacuated, a WHO statement said.
In one bit of good news, the threat of flooding in several areas appeared to lessen Sunday after three rivers clogged by landslides flowed over the blockages without complication, according to Xinhua.
On Saturday, thousands of people, survivors and rescue workers alike, fled Beichuan and other towns. By Sunday, the workers had resumed their search in Beichuan, although the streets were mostly empty.
Fears of flooding remained elsewhere. Officials warned that heavy rain forecast for early this week could weaken some of the 391 reservoirs that dot the region and threaten thousands of people downstream. Also at flooding risk, authorities said, were areas adjoining 21 rivers blocked by massive landslides.
Responding to concerns about nuclear sites in the quake zone, a Chinese military spokesman, air-force Maj. Gen. Ma Jian, said Sunday that all nuclear facilities jolted by the quake were confirmed safe.
Though Ma did not elaborate, China has a research reactor, two nuclear-fuel production sites and two atomic-weapons sites within 90 miles of the quake’s epicenter, according to the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.
Also in the quake area, three giant pandas were missing from the Wolong Nature Reserve for the endangered animals. Five staff members were killed in the quake, forestry spokesman Cao Qingyao told Xinhua. The 60 other giant pandas at the reserve were safe.
President Hu Jintao continued to tour the destruction for a third day Sunday. He expressed gratitude for the arrival of international aid and noted that “relief is still a grim struggle, the task is arduous and time is pressing.”
Two U.S. military C-17 aircraft landed in Chengdu, the Sichuan capital, carrying 15,000 meals, tents, blankets, lanterns, generators and hand tools. The planes came from Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. Xinhua said the supplies were worth $1.6 million and marked the first donation by a foreign military.
Information from The Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times is included in this report.