World

Heavy snow, sandstorm hinder China quake relief

BEIJING (AP) — Heavy snow and a sandstorm delayed flights carrying relief supplies and workers to a remote Tibetan region trying to recover from a devastating earthquake, state media said Sunday.

As the death toll from the April 14 earthquake that flattened tens of thousands of houses in Yushu county of western China's Qinghai province rose by 11 to more than 2,200, a senior government official said relief efforts will shift from searching for survivors to reconstruction and resettlement.

But the work was hindered over the weekend as all six daily flights between the provincial capital of Xining and Yushu were delayed, leaving hundreds of disaster relief workers on their way to the quake zone stranded in Xining, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

A sandstorm engulfed the Xining airport terminal, covering chairs with yellow grit, while in Yushu, heavy snow made plane landings dangerous, the report said.

Saturday was the final day that rescuers would search the quake zone for survivors still buried under rubble, Xinhua said, and Vice Premier Hui Liangyu said work would now focus on building temporary shelters, treating people who were hurt and reconstructing the quake-hit area.

The death toll rose to 2,203 by Saturday evening, while more than 12,000 were injured, Xinhua said. Another 73 people were still missing.

On Saturday, the Chinese government also promised to repair the 87 monasteries that were damaged by the quake, days after monks assisting in relief work were told to leave the disaster area.

The vast majority of Yushu's residents are Tibetan and most are deeply devout Buddhists. The area has 238 monasteries with more than 23,000 monks, Xinhua said.

China's communist leadership is wary of Buddhist monks because of their loyalty to their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing says has pushed for independence for Tibet. The government decision to send the crimson-robed monks out of the quake zone raised concerns that the move was politically motivated.

At the same time, the government appears to be using its full-scale relief operation to show concern for China's Tibetan communities, some of which staged anti-government protests in 2008.

The provincial civil affairs bureau said Saturday it would provide 8,000 yuan ($1,170) in subsidies to families for each death from the quake, according to Xinhua. It would also raise the monthly assistance for orphaned children, widowed elderly and the disabled to 1,000 yuan per person, from 600 yuan, for three months, Xinhua said.