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China Earthquake Death Toll 12,000 and Rising


Chinese workers are racing against the clock to find survivors Tuesday, one day after a massive earthquake struck southwestern Sichuan province. Officials say the death toll is near 12,000 and rising, as officials slowly make contact with the hardest-hit areas. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Since the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Monday, Chinese television has been filled with images of buildings turned to piles of rubble and landslides making roads impassable. Thousands of frightened people fled shaking buildings. The homeless are shown, huddling under a tarp to escape the rain.

Rescuers carefully picked through piles of debris and cheers broke out for the rare moments when they found a survivor alive.

The Chinese government has been making great efforts to show that it is at the forefront of disaster relief work. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao immediately flew to Sichuan province and ordered the roads cleared so workers could get to the worst-hit areas.

State television showed Premier Wen at one of many rescue sites.

Yelling through a megaphone, he told rescue workers their first priority is to recover and rescue those survivors who can be saved.

Monday's quake was centered in mountainous Wenchuan County, about 90 kilometers away from the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu.

Wenchuan officials spoke by satellite phone Tuesday, making an urgent appeal for the government to airlift tents, food, medicine and medical workers to the area, which has been largely closed off.

More than 50,000 Chinese soldiers are joining in disaster relief efforts. Two thousand medical workers from around the country are also heading to affected areas, to treat survivors and fight unsanitary conditions, which could cause epidemics.

Chinese authorities say there was no harm to the Three Gorges Dam, which is 575 kilometers away from the quake's epicenter. At the same time, state media report that teams have been sent to the affected areas to prevent any damaged dams from bursting and further endangering lives.

The large earthquake was felt as far away as Beijing, 1,500 kilometers to the north and Bangkok, Thailand, 3,300 kilometers to the south.

Expressions of sympathy and offers to help are pouring in from around the world.

Vice Civil Affairs Minister Wang Zhenyao said China especially welcomes money and material assistance, but that conditions are not right for Beijing to accept help from international rescue teams. He says the transportation is not good and most of the roads are still blocked, which make it near impossible for Chinese rescue teams to reach the disaster area.

The region continues to be rocked by aftershocks, several which have registered above six magnitude. Authorities say the continued heavy rainstorms also could spark further disaster.

Wenchuan has a large ethnic Tibetan population. It is home to the Wolong Nature Reserve, China's main breeding ground for endangered giant pandas.

This quake is China's second deadliest in modern history. A huge quake killed around 250,000 people in Tangshan, in 1976.

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