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Rare rescues as China quake toll nears 2,000

19 kwietnia, 2010

Relief supplies poured into a remote Tibetan region in northwest China Monday as two women and a girl were rescued from the rubble more than five days after a quake that has killed nearly 2,000.

Chinese authorities ramped up the disaster response, clogging roads leading into Qinghai province\'s Yushu prefecture with truckloads of food, tents and quilts, but warned that icy weather could bring more misery in the days ahead.

In rare good news, rescuers pulled Wujin Cuomao, 68, and Cairen Baji, 4, out of a collapsed building in the town of Jiegu, after relatives kept them alive by passing food and water into the debris.

State television broadcast images of a healthy looking but anxious Wujin Cuomao being lifted onto a stretcher, while another rescue worker clad in orange was shown cradling the girl in his arms in an emergency vehicle.

Both appeared to be ethnic Tibetans, who make up more than 90 percent of the Chinese region\'s people.

Another Tibetan woman in her thirties was also rescued after 130 hours under the ruins of a collapsed building, state television said.

Hundreds of kilometres away, AFP journalists saw convoys of military trucks, civilian aid vehicles and ambulances heading to the disaster area on the Tibetan plateau, known as the "Roof of the World".

The convoys will be a welcome sight after the authorities warned at the weekend that clothing, food and water remained in short supply, as President Hu Jintao visited the zone.

The quake region is a rugged zone at an elevation of around 4,000 metres (13,00 feet), factors that government officials have blamed for hindering response efforts.

State news agency Xinhua said the death toll had risen to 1,944 with 216 still missing after the quake, which struck last Wednesday with a magnitude of 6.9 and also injured 12,135 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

Of the injured, 1,434 were said to be in serious condition.

In Jiegu, Tibetan monks in maroon robes continued to take a lead role in the emergency response, helping to clear the debris of flattened structures and distribute food.

At the Jiegu monastery perched on foothills overlooking the town, around 50 monks loaded bottles of water and instant noodles into a truck bound for quake-hit villages.

Poor weather was forecast for the next three days. Intermittent rain and snow have added to the suffering of victims sleeping outside in frigid weather after thousands of homes collapsed.

"Snow, icy roads and sudden high winds on some roads threaten transportation and relief work," the National Meteorological Centre said.

Rescuers and survivors also face frequent aftershocks -- more than 1,200 aftershocks have shaken the region since the main quake struck.

To head off the risk of deadly disease outbreaks, the bodies of hundreds of quake victims were cremated outside Jiegu on Saturday on a massive funeral pyre piled high with naked corpses and set ablaze by chanting Buddhist monks.

President Hu toured the quake zone a day later, comforting residents and calling on rescuers to keep searching for survivors.

Experts say the chances of finding trapped victims alive following such disasters drop off sharply after the first 72 hours.

"I assure you that the (communist) party and the government will definitely help quake victims rebuild homes and resume classes for children as soon as possible," Hu told a local Tibetan in images broadcast on state television.

The Dalai Lama -- Tibet\'s exiled spiritual leader who was born in Qinghai and later fled the Himalayan region after a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959 -- has appealed to the government to let him visit the victims.

Tibetans in Jiegu expressed hope the Dalai Lama would be allowed into the region, but the request looked unlikely to be granted by China, which has branded the Nobel Peace Prize winner a separatist.