Aftershock in China Topples Many Buildings
BEIJING — A powerful aftershock hit a poor, mountainous region of Sichuan Province on Sunday afternoon, toppling thousands of buildings and injuring hundreds.
Times reporters are answering readers’ questions about the earthquake, its aftermath and the Chinese government’s response.
A list of agencies providing relief in the earthquake zone.
The tremor in Qingchuan County, which the United States Geological Survey measured as having a magnitude of 6.0, hit at 4:21 p.m. By evening, the state news agency, Xinhua, had reported one death and 260 injuries. A government spokesman in Qingchuan said emergency medical teams were responding to calls for help from six townships, Xinhua reported, and the number of casualties was not yet known.
An official in Guangyuan County, east of Qingchuan, told Xinhua that the aftershock had caused many homes to collapse. The tremor struck in a rough and remote area of northern Sichuan, on the border of Gansu Province, and it damaged roads, toppled old buildings and caused several fires in one town, Xinhua reported.
Also on Sunday, state television reported that rescuers had saved an 80-year-old man who had lived for nearly two weeks in a collapsed building.
The rescue, made on Friday, was trumpeted in the state-run media, but Chinese officials are clearly shifting the relief effort toward finding shelter for millions of refugees. The government has said the earthquake left five million people homeless, although one official in Sichuan Province said the number could be as high as 11 million, according to a report on Sunday from Xinhua.
The death toll rose on Sunday, past 62,000, and while rescue efforts are continuing, the chances of finding more trapped survivors are dwindling with each passing day.
Meanwhile, a senior official in Beijing warned that 69 dams in the earthquake-stricken region could present “dangerous situations” and risked some danger of collapsing. To reduce risks, numerous reservoirs in the region have been drained to ease pressure on the dams.
On Saturday, in his second visit to the devastated areas since the earthquake struck on May 12, China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said the government was on alert for secondary disasters, particularly floods that could be caused by the breaching of lakes formed when rivers were blocked by landslides.
On Sunday, state media reported that 1,600 soldiers were marched to one of the “quake lakes,” in Tangjiashan, with orders to blast away the landslide behind which water had been rising for days. Helicopters have not been able to land troops in the region because of bad weather.
The water in the Tangjiashan quake lake, two miles upstream from devastated Beichuan County, rose by about six feet on Saturday, and if its barrier were breached, a flash flood could threaten the lives of 70,000 people downstream, state media reported.
Relief efforts continued in Sichuan Province on a day that jangled nerves in the provincial capital of Chengdu as the aftershock sent thousands of residents running into the streets.
At an impromptu news conference at a tent camp in Yingxiu, near the earthquake’s epicenter, on Saturday, Mr. Wen said that the government’s efforts were shifting from rescuing people buried under fallen buildings to caring for the homeless.
Speaking through a megaphone, he said that tents had been transported to disaster areas from other provinces, but that there was a severe shortage, according to official news reports.
In the city of Dujiangyan, thousands of people are now sleeping in blue disaster tents set up in rows on the open-air track of a college campus. A local restaurant chain serves hot meals every day. Doctors with the Chinese Red Cross prepare stews of medicinal herbs for the ailing. Last week, volunteers from a hair salon gave refugees free haircuts.
Zhou Dezheng, 58, a retired architect, has been staying in a government-issued tent with his family and two others. “We are better off than refugees in most countries,” he said in an interview last week. “We have tents. We have food.”
Many buildings in Dujiangyan, like Mr. Zhou’s home, cracked but did not collapse. Virtually every apartment building in the city of 100,000 is now empty. Sitting beside his tent in the yellow glow of a flashlight last week, Mr. Zhou said, “I am afraid to go home.”
The residents of Dujiangyan, an hour’s drive from Chengdu, the headquarters of the relief effort, are relatively fortunate. They have food, water and shelter.
But in hundreds of villages in the surrounding countryside, many families have not received sturdy steel-framed tents. Instead, they must make do with makeshift shelters made from bamboo poles and tarpaulins. Late last week, several farmers who hiked out of the mountainous Hongkou Township, west of Dujiangyan, said there was not enough food and drinking water there.