Chinese President Hu Flies to Tibetan Quake Zone

JIEGU, China - Chinese President Hu Jintao met with earthquake survivors Sunday in a remote, mountainous Tibetan region where rescue supplies were arriving at a faster pace.

Hu cut short an official trip to South America to deal with the disaster, which killed more than 1,700 people in western China. Amid heavy security, Hu visited a village on the outskirts of Jiegu then headed to a field hospital beside the Jiegu sports stadium.

Crowds of patients and visitors craned their necks to catch a glimpse of Hu as he chatted with medical staff and rescue teams for about 15 minutes. He took no questions and did not speak with journalists. Hu was expected to meet later with people living in a sprawling refugee camp that has sprung up on the town's dusty horse racing track.

Most of the survivors are now living in tents and have basic food and clean water, Zou Ming, head of disaster relief at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told a news conference in Beijing.
Still, Zou said, getting aid to the region, which is a 12-hour drive from the provincial capital, remains a problem.

He said 25,000 tents, more than 50,000 cotton-padded quilts, and 850 tons of instant food and drinking water have been delivered to the quake zone.

The death toll rose Sunday by a few hundred to 1,706 with 256 still missing, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the rescue headquarters in Jiegu.

A 68-year-old man was pulled from the rubble Sunday, four days after the quake hit Wednesday morning. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that he appeared to be in stable condition but didn't provide any additional details.

Hundreds of the dead have been cremated. In a hillside ceremony Saturday, Buddhist monks in face masks set ablaze piles of blanket-wrapped bodies in a mass cremation, as necessity forced them to break with the local tradition of "sky burials" -- leaving corpses on a platform to be devoured by vultures.

Rescue workers were still searching for survivors and bodies in schools. The quake destroyed more than a third of the school buildings in Jiegu and rendered the rest dangerous, according to the Qinghai provincial government. It said 103 students were killed and 684 students and teachers were injured, and at least 38 others were still missing.

Shattered schools remain a sensitive issue in China, where a devastating 2008 quake killed thousands of students, and school buildings and code enforcement were found to be inferior. But the quake this past week flattened schools and other buildings alike.

The first makeshift school started classes Saturday, with 60 elementary and middle school students singing the national anthem, Xinhua said. More classes were expected to resume Sunday.

In town, residents who had camped outdoors amid the debris and lived for days on water and instant noodles eagerly stuffed vegetables into plastic bags as a woman sold eggs and cans of soft drinks on the sidewalk, one of the first vendors to receive goods from out of town.

The Ministry of Commerce said it was sending 30 modified vans that will become mobile stores.

Taiwan's Red Cross, meanwhile, sent a medical team with relief supplies and medicine, according to the government-owned Central News Agency. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, and while Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory, ties have warmed during the past two years.

The exiled Dalai Lama said Saturday he'd like to visit the quake site, though he has never returned to China since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

"To fulfill the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort," the Tibetan spiritual leader said. China hasn't commented but is unlikely to allow a visit after long accusing the Dalai Lama of fomenting separatism in Tibetan areas.