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UNICEF Rushes Supplies For Children In China Earthquake Zone

  • Lisa Schlein

The United Nations Children's Fund says it is rushing urgently needed relief supplies for thousands of children affected by the devastating earthquake that struck Qinghai province in China on Wednesday. The 6.9 magnitude quake destroyed much of Jiegu, the main town of Yushu County, which borders Tibet. Nearly 800 people were killed by the earthquake and an estimated 11,000 were injured. In addition, hundreds are reported missing and thousands are without shelter.

The final casualty tolls from the huge earthquake are not in yet. The United Nations Children's Fund says 103 children died when their schools collapsed and 12 teachers were killed. UNICEF spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume tells VOA the earthquake fortunately struck at a time when few children were in school. Otherwise, the casualty number would have been much higher.

"But, there are a lot of children that are in boarding school," said Christiane Berthiaume. "This is a huge area with a population that is scattered all around. So, many, many kids, in order to receive their education, do attend boarding school and so those are the ones that are the most affected."

Berthiaume says many students are missing and thought to be buried under the rubble. She says it is difficult to get information in this remote mountainous area.

Local education authorities report 80 percent of primary schools and 50 percent of secondary schools in Yushu have been severely damaged. This affects nearly 23,000 students and more than 1,000 teachers.

Berthiaume says earthquake survivors, including thousands of children, are sleeping outdoors in sub-zero temperatures.

"The education authorities have asked us for warm clothing for the children like winter boots and warm jackets, trousers, socks, wool blankets for children that are in the boarding schools," she said. "They have asked us also for tents in cotton, as well as pre-fab building to make dormitories."

Berthiaume says UNICEF has emergency stocks of these items on hand, which it will quickly send to the area.

Health Authorities in Quinghai report the maternal and child health hospital in Yushu County totally collapsed in the earthquake. They say there is an urgent need for medical supplies and childbirth equipment.

Berthiaume says UNICEF will support the Chinese government's disaster response with a focus on the special needs of children and women. She says the government is planning a large immunization campaign and UNICEF will inform parents where to go to get their children immunized against measles, tetanus and other killer diseases.