China has begun three days of national mourning for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Flags are at half mast, there was a three minute silence nationwide during which trading on the national stock exchanges was suspended, and air raid sirens, and car, train, and ship horns were sounded to “wail in grief” exactly a week to the minute after the first shock hit.
The official death toll has now been put at over 71 thousand, and the catastrophe continues, with 200 rescuers buried this morning in a landslide. Schools in particular are holding ceremonies to mark the high casualty figures among pupils, and appeals are going out for parents to adopt orphans.
One woman spoke of her devastation that she can not do more to help. “There is nothing we can do,” she said. “We cannot adopt the orphans as I have two children of my own, so we donated money, and gave them the support we can”.
Many villages and towns have simply been wiped from the face of the earth, and Beichuan, previous population 160 000, has become a symbol for the tragedy, where very few structures remain. Families are now beginning to return to the disaster area, to search for survivors and see the extent of the damage for themselves. When they see the wreckage many of them are stunned speechless, standing in the ruins where their loved ones died, and may still be buried.
While they have been told to stay away, no-one is now telling them they should not make the journey, and hope springs eternal for some that survivors may still be found. For the living left behind disease is now a preoccupation for the authorities, and refugees are now being disinfected at gathering points.