- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

Chinese officials said yesterday the focus of relief work after the devastating May 12 earthquake in the country’s Sichuan province is shifting from search efforts to helping injured and homeless quake victims.

Although the Chinese government is still searching for the nearly 25,000 people, fewer and fewer people are being found alive, said Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

“There are two fronts — rescue and rehabilitation,” he said, adding that the recovery process remains “daunting.”

The death toll was confirmed at 55,740 with another 292,000 people injured.

With more than 14 million houses damaged, infrastructure repair is key. However, rebuilding is a slow process, and in the meantime many of the nearly 5 million people left homeless are still without shelter.

Mr. Wang said the country requires a total of 3.3 million tents, and though “tens of thousands” have already been donated by the international community, many more are still needed.

The Chinese government has specifically asked the United States for aid, saying tents, and then medical supplies, are most urgently required.

“I think the U.S. government can be of great help,” Mr. Wang said. The administration has given China $3 million.

Additionally, the U.S. private sector has donated more than $30 million in money and materials as of Thursday, and that amount is expected to keep growing.

In response to a question about accountability concerning donations, Mr. Wang said strict measures are in place to ensure that “every penny” reaches those in need.

An account of disbursements will be published online by the Chinese Civil Affairs Ministry and the Red Cross Society of China, adding that transparency is very popular with the Chinese public.

As for the Olympic torch relay, halted during the crisis, the trek was resumed yesterday in Shanghai. The original path through Sichuan has been delayed; the relay officially ends Aug. 8.

In China, emergency crews worked to secure 15 sources of radiation buried in the rubble, and the government evacuated thousands of survivors downstream from rivers dammed by landslides, the Associated Press reported.

There has been no leak of radioactive substances into the environment, Wu Xiaoqing, China’s vice minister for environmental protection, told reporters, the AP reported in a dispatch from the quake ravaged town of Pengzhou.

He said 50 sources of radiation were buried by debris from the earthquake, 35 of which had been secured.

The rest lay buried or located but unreachable under collapsed buildings. He gave no specifics about the radiation sources.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that Washington is concerned about the threat to people but does not know of any immediate danger.

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