China mourns as death toll tops 1,100

Tibetan monks prayed yesterday over hundreds of bodies at a makeshift mortuary next to their monastery after powerful earthquakes destroyed the remote mountain town of Jiegu in western China and left at least 1,144 people dead.

More than 11,000 people were injured, and more than 400 remained missing yesterday as rescuers neared the end of the 72-hour period viewed as best for finding people alive. They continued to dig for survivors in the rubble, often by hand.

The official toll was likely to climb further. Gerlai Tenzing, a red-robed monk from the Jiegu Monastery, estimated that about 1,000 bodies had been brought to a hillside clearing in the shadow of the monastery. He said a precise count was difficult because bodies continued to trickle in and some had already been taken away by family members.

Hundreds of the bodies were being prepared for a mass cremation this morning. Genqiu, a 22-year-old monk, said it was impossible to perform traditional sky burials for all. Tibetan sky burials involve chopping a body into pieces and leaving it on a platform to be devoured by vultures. "The vultures can't eat them all," said Genqiu, who like many Tibetans goes by one name.

A 13-year-old Tibetan girl was pulled from the toppled two-storey Minzu Hotel yesterday after a sniffer dog alerted rescuers to her location. The girl, identified as Changli Maomu, was freed after a crane lifted a large concrete block out of the rubble. Her condition was good and she was taken to a medical station for treatment.

Relief workers have estimated that 70 per cent to 90 per cent of the town's wood-and-mud houses collapsed when the earthquakes hit Yushu county, in the western province of Qinghai, on Wednesday morning. The strongest of the quakes was measured at magnitude 6.9 by the US Geological Survey and 7.1 by China's earthquake administration.

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