Tibetan monks prayed Friday over hundreds of bodies at a makeshift morgue next to their monastery after powerful earthquakes destroyed the remote mountain town of Jiegu in western China and left at least 1,144 people dead.
State media on Friday reported that another 417 people remain missing — as rescuers neared the end of the 72-hour period viewed as best for finding people alive. They continued to dig for survivors in the rubble, often by hand.
The official toll was likely to climb further. Gerlai Tenzing, a red-robed monk from the Jiegu Monastery, estimated that about 1,000 bodies had been brought to a hillside clearing in the shadow of the monastery. He said a precise count was difficult because bodies continued to trickle in and some had already been taken away by family members.
Hundreds of the bodies were being prepared for a mass cremation Saturday morning. Genqiu, a 22-year-old monk, said it was impossible to perform traditional sky burials for all. Tibetan sky burials involve chopping a body into pieces and leaving it on a platform to be devoured by vultures.
Rescue work is hampered by language as most of the rescue workers sent into Qinghai do not speak TIbetan. People’s Daily reports:
Civilian and military rescue teams are rushing to Yushu, mainly inhabited by Tibetans, from across the country, but many of them can not speak Tibetan language.
“Language is a problem. It hampers the rescue work,” said Wei Jianmin, a member of China’s International Search and Rescue Team that arrived in the quake-hit zone Wednesday evening.
The government has now sent in 500 interpreters to help with communication.
Al Jazeera reports on how Tibetan monks are dealing with the tragedy after several monasteries were directly impacted by the earthquake:
Meanwhile, in a rare show of solidarity between the two groups, Tibetan monks and Chinese soldiers are working together on the rescue operation, the Christian Science Monitor reports:
On Friday, thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks wearing traditional crimson robes joined Chinese soldiers to distribute food and clothes in Jiegu. Medical rescue teams gathered in a makeshift center to treat the nearly 1,000 people who were seriously injured.
Chinese state television broadcast a few live rescues throughout the day, including that of a 13-year-old girl from a collapsed hotel. Premier Wen Jiabao, in Yushu late Thursday, pledged continued rescue efforts in remarks translated into the local Tibetan language.
Most of Yushu County’s 100,000 people live in Jiegu, home to the Tibetan Buddhist Gyegu Monastery, loyal to the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who Beijing deems a “splittist.”
Update: “Tibetans begin cremating victims of China quake” from AP:
Tibetans broke with local burial traditions and began cremating the victims of an earthquake that struck western China more than 72 hours ago as police stepped up security Saturday to avoid looting of relief materials.
The central government has poured in troops and equipment to this remote western region in a bid to find any remaining survivors, with officials saying the death toll had climbed to 1,144.
There has been tension and some distrust over the government relief effort, which have been slowed by heavy traffic on the single main road from the Qinghai provincial capital, 12 hours away.
Read more about the Yushu earthquake via CDT.