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China Quake Toll Continues to Rise

  • Stephanie Ho

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has praised the Chinese government for its rapid response following the huge earthquake that struck southwestern China's Sichuan Province earlier this month. The U.N. chief met Saturday with Chinese leaders at the quake's epicenter. VOA Beijing correspondent Stephanie Ho reports.

Secretary-General Ban arrived by helicopter in the ruins of Yingxiu, a small town near the epicenter of the massive quake. Yingxiu lost about two-thirds of its 10,000 inhabitants, and there are almost no safe buildings left standing.

In a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the U.N. chief applauded him and the rapid response of his government.

"This is a natural disaster," he said. "This can be overcome, if we cooperate and we work hard. You have been working hard, and you have been demonstrating your leadership extraordinarily. The whole world, the United Nations, stands behind you and supports you."

The U.N. leader traveled to China from Burma, where 130,000 people were killed or are missing following Cyclone Nargis. In contrast to China, he called the situation in Burma "very humbling" and "very tragic."

Premier Wen told Mr. Ban that China will offer another $10 million in aid to Burma, on top of the $30 million in relief supplies it has already offered.

The Chinese leader said the quake death toll in China has passed 60,000 people.

He says this number may climb to a level of 70,000 or 80,000, or more.

As rescue and relief workers continue to dig through the rubble, there are almost no hopes of finding any more survivors. Premier Wen urged emergency workers to take precautions for what he called "secondary disasters," which include death from landslides or flooding.

Chinese state media report that natural disasters, such as the earthquake, and other health hazards have prompted Beijing to set up a color-coded emergency alarm system.

The system will include red, orange, yellow and blue, with red being the most severe status.

The report says the new system will go into effect July 1, and will include a hotline to handle emergency reports from the public.

Meanwhile, eight giant pandas have been taken from Wolong, Sichuan, near the quake's epicenter, to their new home at the Beijing Zoo, to "add cheer to the Beijing Olympics."

Wolong is China's main breeding and research center for the endangered giant panda. Authorities there say the quake damaged the center and injured two pandas. Two pandas are still missing.

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