China finds radiation sources after quake

China has found what it termed 50 ”hazardous sources of radiation” due to last week’s earthquake, a senior official said on Friday, though he insisted the situation was under control.

But Wu Xiaoqing, deputy environment minister, said there had been no accidental releases of radiation.

”Thirty-five of the radiation sources have been recovered, and the location of another 15 has been confirmed, but they have not yet been recovered,” Wu told a news conference in Beijing.

”Three are buried in rubble and another 12 are in dangerous buildings, which staff cannot go into,” he added. ”At present, tests from the scene show that there has yet to be an accidental release of radiation.”

The disaster area is home to China’s chief nuclear weapons research lab in Mianyang, as well as several secretive atomic sites, but no nuclear power stations.

Eleven days after the 7,9-magnitude quake shook the mountainous province of Sichuan, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, relief workers and ordinary residents are now focused on reconstruction.

The known death toll from the quake already exceeds 55 000, but more bodies are expected to be found as the debris from the dozens of flattened cities, towns and villages is cleared.

A top provincial official said China would need to rebuild whole towns and villages from scratch to rehouse the millions displaced by the quake, a task that could take three years.

Some towns in the earthquake zone in the south-west of the country would need to be relocated altogether because the terrain is not safe, officials have said.

Rainy season coming

The rainy season, due within weeks, is adding urgency to their work. The government’s main concern is that aftershocks and heavy rain could cause secondary disasters such as flash floods and landslides.

”The rebuilding work faces a lot of difficulty in the region, where the mountains have been shaken loose in the earthquake and there have been more than 7 000 aftershocks,” Li Chengyun, vice-governor of Sichuan, told a news conference in Beijing.

Relief workers are also concerned that poor hygiene could cause disease outbreaks. Li said this was a ”peak period for outbreaks of diseases”, describing the situation as very grim.

China has pleaded with the international community to provide millions of tents for the homeless. It is also sending tonnes of heavier building equipment and supplies into the area.

”We will strive to provide safe, economical and convenient temporary housing for 98% of the residents within the next month,” Li said.

”The priority work in the reconstruction is to find proper locations for rural residents to build houses. We will strive to make such village houses ready for them before winter comes.”

In Chengdu, some volunteer relief convoys reported being held up by hungry residents, one at gunpoint. Two people were decapitated by helicopter blades, one at the Wolong panda reserve, sources in Sichuan and local reporters said.

‘The mountains merged’

Premier Wen Jiabao, making his second visit to the disaster zone, visited hospitals and tents sheltering quake refugees on Friday in Mianyang and Beichuan county, one of the worst-hit areas.

In a temporary shelter for the Beichuan Middle School, which lost up to 1 000 students and teachers in the quake, Wen tried to cheer up children, writing a line on the blackboard reading ”Deep distress resurrects a nation”.

Wen, a trained geologist, had earlier ordered rescue workers to eliminate the danger of dammed rivers, waterways and bulging newly formed lakes ”through engineering means”, while swiftly evacuating people in their path.

The May 12 quake, the worst to hit China in a generation, changed the landscape of northern Sichuan forever.

In Hongguang, in the province’s north-east, the quake caused both sides of a valley to slide, burying three villages and 900 people. The Qingzhu River is trapped behind.

”The mountains merged,” said Gao Xiao, who barely escaped a landslide that roared past her house. — Reuters

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Lucy Hornby
Lucy Hornby works from Beijing. Financial Times deputy bureau chief in Beijing. 金融时报北京分社副社长 Lucy Hornby has over 46801 followers on Twitter.

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