Last week's deadly earthquake in China has created more than 4,000 orphans, a Chinese official said.
But Chen Kefu, the deputy director for civil affairs in hard-hit Sichuan province, warned during a press conference Wednesday that it will take time to determine the real number of orphans because of the large number of people still missing and displaced.
The May 12 quake has killed more than 41,000 people and left more than 5 million homeless.
Thousands of Chinese have called government offices and posted pleas online to adopt an orphan from the quake.
"Every day my ministry receives hundreds of calls," Jiang Li, China's vice minister of civil affairs, told a press conference Tuesday.
The earthquake also robbed many parents of their children, many of whom were killed when their schools collapsed.
But officials say adoptions won't begin until the earthquake-affected area is brought under order. Until then, local governments will take care of the orphans.
"We've received many inquiries about adoptions, but at present it's simply too early since we're still in the rescue and recovery stage," said Wang Jun of the Chinese Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, who is handling orphan issues in the city of Deyang on the edge of the quake zone.
Officials are first scrambling to reunite children with family members. Newspapers have run children's photos and names, asking the public for help. Posters with similar information have been posted at the sports stadium in the city of Mianyang, which has turned into a massive relief camp for thousands of survivors.
China is the top source of foreign adopted children in the United States, and many Americans have already contacted adoption agencies about earthquake orphans.
However, "I think the Chinese government will start with domestic adoption first," said Joshua Zhong, the co-founder and president of the U.S.-based Chinese Children Adoption International.