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Japanese Rescue Team Starts Working in Quake-hit Area

A group of Japanese earthquake rescuers have started working right after their arrival at about 3:30 PM at Qiaozhuang Township, seat of Qingchuan County, one of the worst-hit counties in the quake-stricken southwestern Sichuan Province.

The 31 well-equipped rescuers are the first batch of foreign aid personnel to enter China since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Sichuan Province on Monday afternoon.

The rescuers are working at a 6-storey residential building of the county's hospital of traditional Chinese medicine. Two aftershocks were felt at the site.

There are still three people under the debris of the collapsed building, where nine bodies were dug out earlier.

Takashi Koizumi, head of the Japanese team, said Chinese troops and rescue workers started relief work earlier, and the Japanese rescuers are prepared to search for the rest three people by hand.

Song Xuemei and her 70-day baby daughter are still under the completely collapsed building, and Song's husband Huang Li has come back from Chengdu.

Another one under the debris can not be identified at the moment.

Chen Shengtang, deputy head of the hospital, is working at the site although her husband died in the quake. She said several hospital staff members or their family members died and all the medical equipment were destroyed while all patients successfully escaped.

Another 29 Japanese rescue professionals are expected to arrive later on Friday with sniffer dogs.

Takashi Koizumi said earlier that the situation in Qingchuan was very severe and they had no idea of the condition of the buildings there, but they were very confident about their task.

He said their most important task was to save lives and they will spare no effort. They are scheduled to stay in Qingchuan for about a week but it depends on the situation.

China has also accepted rescue teams from Russia, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Singapore, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang early Friday morning.

The ministry said the first group of 52 Russian rescuers are on their way to Sichuan. Their plane left Russia early on Friday. It is reported that a second group of 38 Russians will also fly to Sichuan later Friday.

A 44-member rescue team from the ROK and a 55-member Singaporean team will also fly to Chengdu on Friday afternoon, according to the latest information from the Foreign Ministry.

Li Wenliang, counselor from the Foreign Ministry, said that this was the first time that China had accepted foreign professionals for domestic disaster rescue and relief.

As of 4:00 PM on Friday, the death toll from the earthquake in Sichuan Province has exceeded 21,500 while 14,000 others are still buried, the Sichuan provincial government said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 16, 2008)

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