BEICHUAN, China - China will spend three days marking the moment when tens of thousands died in a devastating earthquake, while hope of finding more trapped survivors dwindled yesterday and preventing hunger and disease became more pressing.
The government announced an official mourning period, which started today, and asked China's 1.3 billion people to observe three minutes of silence starting at 2:28 p.m. - exactly one week after the quake killed an estimated 50,000.
The Olympic torch relay - a symbol of national pride in the countdown to August's much-anticipated Beijing games - also will be suspended during the mourning period, the organizing committee said.
As the second week of China's worst disaster in a generation approached, the search for anyone left alive in the rubble turned glum despite remarkable survival tales among thousands who were buried.
"It will soon be too late" to find trapped survivors, said Koji Fujiya, deputy leader of a Japanese rescue team working in Beichuan, a town reduced to rubble. His team yesterday pulled 10 bodies out of Beichuan's high school.
The steady run of rescue news flashed by the official Xinhua News Agency has slowed. Just three rescues were reported yesterday, including a woman in Yingxiu town who was reached by soldiers who dug a 15-foot tunnel through the wreckage of a flattened power station and had to amputate both her legs to set her free, after 150 hours.
"She was in a delirious state" and told rescuers to leave her alone, thinking she was already in a hospital, Xinhua quoted rescuer Ma Gang as saying. "We fed her milk and water, and her family was there to reassure her."
Dozens of aftershocks have rumbled through the region, extending the damage and fear of survivors. A magnitude 6 temblor yesterday killed three people, injured more than 1,000 and caused further damage to houses and roads, Xinhua reported.
With more bodies discovered, the confirmed death toll rose to 32,476, the State Council, China's cabinet, reported. The injured numbered more than 220,000.
Many bodies lay by roadsides in body bags or wrapped in plastic sheeting, as authorities struggled to deal with the sheer number of corpses by digging burial pits and working crematoriums overtime.
The World Health Organization warned that shortages of clean water and warmer, humid weather in Sichuan province - which bore the brunt of the earthquake - were ripe for epidemics. It urged officials not to be distracted by the false belief that corpses were a health threat.
The Health Ministry said no major epidemics or other public health hazards had been reported so far, Xinhua said. Two field hospitals with 400 beds have been set up in isolated areas and medical staff have reached all townships affected by the quake, Xinhua said.
The three-day mourning period is the most extensive one the government has ordered since the death 11 years ago of communist patriarch Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the free-market reforms that have brought many Chinese from poverty to moderate prosperity in a generation.
During the mourning period, all national flags at home and at Chinese missions abroad will fly at half-staff, and public recreational activities will be canceled. *