Chinese authorities have blocked rights groups and Tibetan monks from participating in rescue efforts in an earthquake-struck zone in southwestern Sichuan province, activists said Sunday as the toll of the dead and missing from the tremblor climbed past 200.
The quake—measured by China's earthquake administration at magnitude 7.0 and by the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.6—struck early Saturday in Lushan county, near the city of Ya'an, close to where a devastating 7.9 quake hit in May 2008, leaving 90,000 dead or missing.
Veteran Sichuan activist Huang Qi told RFA's Mandarin Service on Sunday that he and several other activists were intercepted by police while they were hurrying to Ya'an, a city of 1.5 million people and home to one of China's main centers for protecting the giant panda.
“The authorities kept us for several hours, warning us not to ‘add more trouble’ to the disaster," Huang said.
A policeman indirectly reminded Huang about his imprisonment for his involvement in relief efforts during the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, in which 5,335 schoolchildren were among the dead.
“I explained to them that we would not and cannot create any trouble in the quake zone … But they blocked us from going there,” he said.
Huang was detained by the Sichuan authorities in June 2008 after he and other volunteers entered the quake-ravaged zone 14 times to help parents of children who died in the quake investigate allegations of shoddy school construction.
He was jailed in 2009 for three years for “illegal possession of state secrets” obtained during his investigations following the quake, which had aroused public anger after it was discovered that many schools had collapsed due to suspected corruption that led to shoddy construction.
On Saturday, Tibetan monks trying to get to the quake-hit zone in Sichuan on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau were also stopped by the authorities, Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser said on Twitter.
“Many Tibetan monks living in Chengdu [Sichuan's capital] tried to go to the quake zone to support the rescue efforts on Saturday morning, but they were blocked by the authorities," she said.
"They tried go to Ya'an through other routes, but were also stopped,” Woeser said, without providing details.
China's state news agency Xinhua said late Sunday that 186 people have been killed in the quake, the country's worst in three years, with 21 reported missing and 11,393 others injured, according to latest statistics gathered by the provincial emergency response command center.
Xia Yeliang, a Beijing scholar, told RFA on Sunday that the Chinese authorities were preventing the flow of information from the quake zone.
“The government is repeating what they did before, blocking information that does not put them in a good light," he said.
Xia also called for a "professional disaster rescue mechanism" to cope with the disaster.
"When disaster happens, they rely on the military and police, and call for people to donate money," he said "After so many disasters, there are still no professional rescue teams; this is not acceptable.”
Chines Premier Li Keqiang was at the disaster zone on Saturday to oversee rescue efforts in what was seen as his first major test since taking office in March as the government mobilized thousands of soldiers and relief workers, sending excavators and other heavy machinery as well as tents, blankets, and other emergency supplies.
Rescue efforts difficult
Rescue efforts were made difficult by at least 1,700 aftershocks, with the strongest measuring 5.4-magnitude, since the quake struck, Xinhua reported late Sunday.
Two soldiers died after their vehicle slid off a road and rolled down a cliff, state media reported
Quake survivors in Lushan County have also complained of a shortage of water, food, and tents, Xinhua reported, citing children holding up cardboard signs to express their distress.
"500 people, no food, no water, no tents," read one paperboard, the agency said.
"I had no food for a whole day," a resident in the Wangjia Village of Longmen township in Lushan was quoted saying.
No dead or injured pandas had been found so far, but aftershocks and potential subsequent disasters may threaten their safety, said Zuo Guangyuan, chief of the management bureau of a natural reserve in northeastern Baoxing, another county hard hit by the quake.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.