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Chinese Officials Call for Tents to House Earthquake Survivors

Chinese officials are urging the international community to aid earthquake relief efforts by donating tents to shelter the estimated five million Chinese who lost their homes. The 7.9 magnitude quake flattened some 45,000 buildings, not including private homes. The official death toll has climbed to more than 51,000, with more than 29,000 people missing. From VOA's New York Bureau, Alex Villarreal has more.

Kuang Weilin, deputy consul-general of the Chinese Consulate in New York, praised the Chinese and international communities for their quick response to the devastating earthquake.

"[In] this time, I think that not only the people in China united but also the whole world. The whole world is behind those unfortunate people who are affected by the earthquake," he said.

Kuang says after the quake hit May 12, the Chinese military launched the biggest rescue and relief effort in China's history, sending 120,000 soldiers to the disaster areas. He says the government has allocated $10 million to a special reconstruction fund and cut spending by five percent this year to fund quick relief efforts.

Kuang says international donors have given more than $280 million. The New York Consulate alone received more than three million dollars in donations.

"On the whole, rescue and relief efforts have been doing very well, and great progress has been made. I think on the whole, the situation in the earthquake-stricken areas is improving. Roads have been repaired and reopened, communications and power [have] been restored in most areas, and even some students have resumed classes in some areas. Having said that, I think we are still faced with very daunting challenges," he said.

Kuang cites damaged dams and roads, difficulties in transporting relief materials and the dangers of disease in the worst-hit areas as some of the challenges.

He says the biggest need now is for tents to shelter the millions of Chinese who lost their homes. Some 400,000 have already been distributed, but China is calling for more than three million more.

Kuang says the Chinese government is determined to save as many lives as possible at whatever cost. He encourages survivors to be strong.

"I think we have to move forward and with the support of the government and people of other parts of the country as well as the whole world, they will surely overcome their difficulties and rebuild their homelands. And we are willing to do anything for them and the government is willing to do anything for them. And the world community will also contribute," he said.

Kuang says relief efforts are moving into a second phase. He says the government is focused now on resettlement and reconstruction and paying special attention to the emotional needs of the victims, many of them children made orphans by the quake.