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Sichuan Earthquake Death Toll Exceeds 12,000

A senior official with the Sichuan Provincial government said Tuesday the death toll in the province has exceeded 12,000, and is still rising.

Li Chengyun, vice governor of Sichuan, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the death toll was based on incomplete figures tallied by 4:00 PM Tuesday. He said another 26,206 people were injured, and more than 9,400 people were buried in debris.

Li also provided a breakdown of the death toll, including 161 in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, 7,395 in Mianyang City, 2,648 in Deyang City, 959 in the provincial capital Chengdu and 700 in Guangyuan City. Other casualties were reported in cities including Ya'an, Ziyang and the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

The death toll climbed from an earlier tally provided by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which put the Sichuan death toll at 11,608. Authorities said the death toll might change every hour, as they heard reports from rescuers who were seizing every minute to pull out bodies from the earthquake rubble.

The earthquake, which centered on the province's Wenchuan County at 2:28 PM Monday, has left the province in chaos. More than 3.46 million houses were wracked, Li said.

Li said he was deeply saddened by the super earthquake. He called on both officials and the masses in Sichuan to speed up efforts to fight the disaster and rescue themselves.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who arrived in Sichuan Monday afternoon to oversee rescue work, ordered the clearance of rocks and mud slides that were blocking roads to the epicenter by midnight on Tuesday.

"People are trapped in debris; we must use every second," he told an emergency meeting at 7:00 AM Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, a brigade of about 20 soldiers have reached Yingxiu Town of the earthquake epicenter Wenchuan, the disaster relief headquarters in the Chengdu Military Area Command said.

The soldiers reported they saw more than 70 percent of the roads in the town were wracked, and nearly all bridges collapsed. A large number of people were believed to be under the debris.

They said 3,000 people were known to have survived, and the town's total population is 12,000. No information on detailed casualties could be available.

Li Shiming, commander of the Chengdu Military Area Command, said the soldiers had distributed food and water to children and injured people in the town, and more supplies would be airdropped to the area.

(Xinhua News Agency May 13, 2008)

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