Three days after China’s massive earthquake, hopes of finding many more survivors are diminishing. Nearly 20,000 people are known to have perished, and Beijing admits the total could pass 50,000. Now there are fears of another catastrophe. Cracks have been found in hundreds of dams in the area, and engineers worry that some may collapse, drowning towns and villages downstream.
Earthquake rescue operations are being hampered by blocked roads. Nearly all routes heading for the disaster area were cut by landslides, meaning vital heavy lifting equipment must wait until the roads are cleared and repaired, before they can begin their work.
Feng Zhening, the deputy minister of Transport, said the rescuers just can’t get through.
“The roads are ruined, and we don’t want to use dynamite. We are using bulldozers to push through, metre by metre, and it’s holding us back. It is not that we do not have enough manpower, it is just the conditions on the ground.”
Thousands of extra troops have been sent to Sichuan to help with the operation. But the scale of the disaster is overwhelming. Help is arriving slowly, from within China and from abroad. Food, water, warm clothing and medicines are the most urgent. Villages, towns and cities have been destroyed, lives too. The extent of the destruction suggests that rescuers are going to find many more bodies than survivors.