MIANZHU, China (AFP) — China scrambled on Wednesday to provide shelter and prevent disease among five million people made homeless by last week's earthquake, as the number of dead and missing climbed above 74,000.
With hope virtually extinguished of finding more survivors amid the rubble of the devastated towns and villages across mountainous Sichuan province, soldiers and relief workers focused on the desperate plight of those displaced.
Nine days after the 8.0-magnitude quake, the government said the confirmed number of people killed had risen to 41,353. But with another 32,666 confirmed still missing, the death toll is likely to soar.
Stopping disease outbreaks among the five million people displaced in the disaster has become a top concern, and China's health ministry has sent more than 3,500 specialists in epidemic control to Sichuan.
Doctors in the region were also ordered to test all quake survivors who needed medical treatment for a potentially deadly bacterial infection, known as gas gangrene , that has led to 30 people having amputations.
There have been no reports of a major outbreak, but gangrene patients have been isolated to stop infections from spreading.
Authorities across the quake zones are working frantically to ensure people have access to clean water, a must to avoid potentially deadly epidemics of diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.
"We don't have anything. We don't know where we're going to find money to rebuild our village," said Ma Jingsuan, 52, who was one of 7,000 people seeking refuge among a sea of blue tents on the fringes of Sichuan's Mianzhu city.
"We're entirely dependent on the government."
Premier Wen Jiabao has ordered 900,000 tents to be sent to the disaster area over the next month, and up to one million makeshift structures by August.
Across many cities in Sichuan, bulldozers were levelling ground to set up camps, according to AFP reporters there.
On the outskirts of Dujiangyan, a city where hundreds of people were killed, crews raced to slap together semi-permanent homes for 4,000 to 5,000 people on a muddy area the size of about three football fields.
The goal was to finish in three days, one survivor there said.
The stench of death hung over ravaged mountain towns. In Hanwang, the only signs of life were of the few survivors who came to collect their belongings.
China has faced some criticism for not allowing in specialist search and rescue teams from overseas immediately after the quake, and then only allowing in small contingents from a few countries.
However, China has been more open in the campaign to look after the displaced, and plane loads of aid from countries as diverse as Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Singapore have landed in southwest China.
That international effort was ramping up, after China appealed on Tuesday for tents and other supplies from within China and overseas.
Saudi Arabia has sent more than 85,000 tents and 500,000 blankets, on top of a cash donation of 50 million dollars, China's state-run press reported.
The German Red Cross was also sending over a mobile hospital capable of accommodating 120 patients, which state press said would be the first facility of its kind contributed by any country.
A Japanese medical team of more than 20 doctors, nurses and other experts also left on Tuesday for China to help victims.
On Tuesday, 60-year-old Wang Youqun, who survived on rain water, was rescued nearly 200 hours after being buried under a collapsed temple.
She was the last person to have been hauled out of the rubble alive.
China began an unprecedented three-day period of mourning on Monday that has seen many entertainment venues across the country closed and state-controlled television suspend normal broadcasts to focus fully on the recovery effort.
As in the previous two days, thousands of people gathered Wednesday at Tiananmen Square, the nation's political heart in Beijing, to chant messages of support for victims of the tragedy.
Meanwhile, Tibet's government-in-exile called for a temporary halt to protests around the world against China's rule of the Himalayan region out of respect for the quake victims.
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