SHANGHAI, China – North Korea (search) made new pleas for help and thousands of rescuers rushed in food, medicine and tents as the victims of last week's train explosion (search) struggled to stay clean and warm nearly a week after the disaster.
About 370 victims remained hospitalized, two-thirds of them children. Many suffered severe burns and eye injuries from the blast's shock wave of glass, rubble and heat. Many could lose sight in at least one eye, said Dr. Eigil Sorensen, a representative for the World Health Organization (search). He visited the blast site and nearby hospitals Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the often standoffish North intensified its appeals for aid. Property damage from the explosion, as powerful as 100 one-ton bombs, was estimated at $356 million, the official North Korean news agency KCNA said.
"Horrible is the human and material loss," it said late Tuesday. Results of further investigations showed "the damage is unexpectedly gaining in scope."
The death toll from Thursday's explosion stood at 161, including 76 children from one destroyed school. More than 1,300 people were injured, aid agencies said.
KCNA said many victims were left "deaf and blind" by the blast. It said the explosion in Ryongchon, a town of 130,000 near the Chinese border, destroyed at least 8,100 homes and more than 30 public buildings. About 20,000 rescuers were on the scene, it said.
International aid agencies have put no price tag on reconstruction. The North's damage estimate far outweighs what donors have promised, fueling speculation that Pyongyang is trying to gain as much aid as possible.
Meanwhile, thousands of people were living in tents without adequate sanitation or water, and a team of foreign aid workers visited Ryongchon on Wednesday to assess the situation.
Relief workers described people struggling to rebuild with their bare hands. Getting more food, blankets and medicine to the injured and homeless were urgent tasks, they said.
Hospitals lack even basic supplies, like intravenous drips needed to treat the many burn patients. WHO listed antibiotics, eye drops and burn kits as the greatest needs.
A hospital less than a mile from the site of the explosion was putting plastic over windows blown out by the blast and beginning to once again take patients, Sorensen said.
The United States, China, Australia and Japan are among nations that have offered aid, and Germany said it would donate $119,000 to buy food and building materials. KCNA said Wednesday that a first installment of Russian relief aid arrived — including medicine, tents and blankets.
Chronically short of fuel, electricity and food, North Korea has taken most of the aid, but it has been hesitant to accept help from South Korea.
The North rejected offers from the rival South to send doctors, but did ask the South to send building materials, bulldozers and diesel fuel, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.
A freighter set out Wednesday bringing South Korea's first shipment of aid: $1 million worth of medicines, blankets, underwear, instant noodles, bottled water and clothes.
The aid was expected to reach victims late Thursday at the earliest because the shipment is to unload at Nampo, a port near the North's capital of Pyongyang. North Korea refused to let South Korean trucks cross the Demilitarized Zone that has separated the two Koreas for a half century.
North Korea's communist government relaxed its normal secrecy in seeking help after the disaster. It says the explosion occurred when workers knocked train cars carrying oil and chemicals against power lines.