Shifang, China (AFP) May 21, 2008
A woman emerged alive Wednesday after being trapped for nine days in a tunnel following China's earthquake, as the government ordered budget cuts to fund a multi-billion-dollar relief package.
Rescuers plucked to safety the woman who had been stuck in the water tunnel of a hydropower plant in southwestern Sichuan province's quake-ravaged town of Shifang, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Cui Changhui was airlifted to a hospital and her life was not in danger, even though she suffered fractures to her right arm, ribs and lower back, it said, without giving her age.
It was the latest amazing survival story that has given much cheer to many Chinese as they try to cope with the May 12 earthquake that the government said Wednesday had killed or left missing more than 74,000 people.
But she was the only person rescued on Wednesday and with hopes fading of finding any more survivors, relief work focused on the desperate plight of the 5.2 million people left homeless.
The Cabinet, in a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, ordered 70 billion yuan (10 billion dollars) for reconstruction and 25 billion yuan (3.6 billion dollars) for relief operations.
The central government budget would be slashed by five percent this year to allow for the more than 13 billion-dollar package, it said.
"We have the determination, the confidence and the capability to overcome all difficulties and obstacles," Wen said, according to a government statement.
The government said the confirmed number of people killed in the 8.0-magnitude tremor had risen to 41,353. But with another 32,666 still listed as missing, the death toll was likely to soar.
Across many cities in Sichuan, bulldozers were levelling ground to set up camps as the stench of death floated in the air, according to AFP reporters there.
"We don't have anything. We don't know where we're going to find money to rebuild our village," said Ma Jingsuan, 52, who was one of 7,000 people seeking refuge among a sea of blue tents on the fringes of Sichuan's Mianzhu city.
"We're entirely dependent on the government."
The Communist Party chief in Beichuan county said that authorities planned to rebuild the county seat, where 8,600 of the 13,000 residents died, in an entirely different area in the plains.
"Safety is the top priority in selecting a new location and reconstruction," party chief Song Ming was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
Meanwhile, authorities across the quake zone were working frantically to ensure people had access to clean water, a must to avoid potentially deadly epidemics of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.
Doctors in the region were also ordered to test all quake survivors who needed medical treatment for a potentially deadly bacterial infection, known as gas gangrene, that has led to 30 people having amputations.
There have been no reports of a major outbreak, but gangrene patients have been isolated to stop infections from spreading.
China's health ministry has sent more than 3,500 specialists in epidemic control to Sichuan.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised China's relief effort, contrasting it with the "slow" response from military-ruled Myanmar after its massive cyclone earlier this month.
"I think that the rescue effort in China has been one that has been heroic and thousands of lives have been saved," Brown said.
Tibet's government-in-exile called for a temporary halt to protests around the world against China's rule of the Himalayan region out of respect for the quake victims.
China has faced some criticism for not allowing in specialist search and rescue teams from overseas immediately after the quake, and then only allowing in small contingents from a few countries.
However, China has been more open in the campaign to look after the displaced, and plane loads of aid from countries as diverse as Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Singapore have landed in the southwest.
Chinese state media has predicted that the earthquake will trim 0.2 percentage points this year from the country's soaring growth.
But Premier Wen said the disaster in the predominantly agricultural area would not hit the world's fourth largest economy as a whole.
The earthquake "has created serious repercussions for the economy of the disaster area and has added new uncertain factors to the nation's overall economy, but it has not changed the fundamentals of economic development," he said.
Two men were detained in Gansu province for making crank calls to a school warning that another earthquake was imminent, Xinhua said. The false rumour caused panic among pupils who fled the building.
China to spend 13 billion dollars on quake relief, rebuilding: govt
In a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, the government ordered 25 billion yuan (3.6 billion dollars) for relief operations and 70 billion yuan for reconstruction, the government said.
"We have the determination, the confidence and the capability to overcome all difficulties and obstacles," Wen was quoted as saying in a statement on the government's website.
"(We) will resolutely strike at the two tasks of winning the earthquake rescue and relief battle, and advancing the fast-paced development of society and the economy," he said.
The central government budget would be slashed by five percent this year to save funds for the quake recovery, he said, adding that further reconstruction funding would be allocated in coming years if needed.
Wen unreeled a long list of difficulties facing his government, including feeding and housing the 5.2 million homeless, evacuating the injured from remote mountainous areas, and consoling and comforting the many orphans and parents who had lost their children.
"Backward sanitary conditions have made it easy for the spread of epidemics, and the damaged and unsafe reservoirs and hydroelectric projects and rivers blocked by landslides are among the many hidden dangers that can lead to more disaster," Wen said.
"Resuming production in the disaster area and reconstruction in the aftermath of the disaster will be a very daunting task."
Disaster relief funds would be allocated for feeding, providing clean water, clothing and sheltering the homeless, as well as for repairing infrastructure such as roads, reservoirs and dams, he said.
The reconstruction fund would be aimed at returning economic production to the region and restoring local government and social administration to normal operations, he said.
"We must continue to maintain earthquake relief and rescue efforts as the highest priority," Wen said.
But he added that China also needed to look at other challenging economic issues, including its battle to tame inflation.
"One hand must grasp earthquake rescue and relief... and the other hand must grasp economic development and advance, strengthen and perfect the macroeconomic control of inflation and maintain the stable and fast-paced development of the economy," Wen said.
He said that inflationary pressures, supply shortages of coal, electricity and oil in some parts of the nation, as well as an imbalance in fiscal payments, would continue to pose challenges to future fast-paced growth in China.
"The Wenchuan earthquake has created serious repercussions for the economy of the disaster area and has added new uncertain factors to the nation's overall economy, but it has not changed the fundamentals of economic development," he said.
State media has previously predicted that the disaster in the predominantly agricultural region would trim 0.2 percentage points from China's soaring growth this year.
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