China's Hu flies in to quake site, toll nears 1,500

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President Hu Jintao flew to China's remote and ruined Yushu county to speed relief distribution on Sunday, as Tibetan monks cremated victims of an earthquake in the northwest that killed nearly 1,500 people.

Hu cut short a visit to South America to fly to the disaster area.

Chinese rescuers pulled a 68-year-old man from the rubble early on Sunday. He had been trapped for 100 hours, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The man's condition appeared stable, rescuers said, and he had been taken to hospital.

Hundreds of military trucks, joined by convoys organized by private aid groups, rolled across the 1,000 km (620 miles) from the provincial capital to Gyegu, the Yushu county seat where survivors are increasingly desperate for food and shelter.

Hu inspected quake damage and visited affected residents in Gyegu's Zhaxi Datong village, Xinhua said.

In Tuanjie village, outside Gyegu, relief workers distributed blankets at the local monastery but said the high altitude is limiting their ability to fly in food.

"We have never had such a big earthquake before so this is completely unexpected for us and we were not prepared," said He Zhanlu, team leader for aid distribution in the village. "To add to this, aid from all over the country is coming to us now, so traffic conditions on the road is a logistical problem."

Some non-government organizations have set up distribution centres outside Gyegu to stop looting and fights over food.

Family members brought more wrapped bodies to hundreds of chanting monks. The monks, many who came on pickup trucks from other Tibetan regions, estimate they have cremated more than 1,000 bodies on a grassy hillside outside Gyegu.

The sheer number has forced them to abandon traditional "sky burials," in which the dead are left for vultures to eat.

Scavenging

Residents and rescue teams picked through the wreckage of collapsed homes, looking for the dead and for bits and pieces to make life in tents or in the cold outdoors a little easier.

"Our first problem is that there aren't enough tents, and too many of the ones that are arriving are going to people with influence," said Dongzhu, an ethnic Tibetan who was scouring the remnants of his collapsed home on Saturday.

The harsh conditions on the Tibetan plateau -- Gyegu is about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level -- mean reconstruction is urgent. Temperatures drop below freezing at night and strong winds blow constantly.

"When winter comes here, it's very, very cold and windy too," Dongzhu said. "I can't imagine what it would be like to be living in a little tent when winter comes."

Donations from other provinces have reached 225 million yuan ($32.97 million), Zuo Ming, an official at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said on Sunday.

"At the moment, the supplies that have been sent are enough to ensure people there have shelter, food and water. Of course, there are shortages, and a lot of supplies are still in transit," he told reporters.

Tibetan students in regional cities have volunteered to translate at hospitals, where patients are unable to communicate with Chinese doctors, Xinhua said.

Dongzhu's family was sleeping outdoors in their courtyard, surrounded by Buddhist statues and other recovered items.

"There's absolutely no way that the families around here could afford to pay for new homes themselves, and after this we will want quake-resistant homes," said Dongzhu, a retired local official in his sixties.

Many local families make a few thousand yuan a year from small businesses, itinerant labor or herding yaks and goats.

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