19,000 victims of China's May earthquake identified: officials
Millions still in need of supplies before winter sets in
About 19,000 people who died in a massive earthquake that struck Sichuan province in China in May have been identified, a Chinese official said Friday.
A total of 70,000 people are believed to have been killed in the quake that hit on May 12 in the mountainous southwestern province. About 18,000 of those people are classified as missing.
The government has not released a separate death toll for children, many of whom were crushed when schools collapsed during the quake. Officials, however, have said that about 7,000 classrooms were destroyed.
Media reports had initially indicated a Chinese official had said the 19,065 deaths were students but that figure was quickly retracted and clarified by China as being the total number of identified earthquake victims.
Li Jiang, spokesman with the Sichuan provincial propaganda office, said that the official translation of the news conference had been incorrect.
Verifying the number of students who died is a complex process and there is "no final, accurate figure," Wei Hong, the executive vice-governor of Sichuan, said during the news conference on Friday.
"The government is also very sorry about their deaths," Wei said. "Our government will try their utmost to properly resolve the questions raised by the family members and parents of students who died in the earthquake."
Wei blamed the destruction of public service buildings, including schools and hospitals, on the intensity of the magnitude-7.9 quake.
Officials with the Chinese government have previously acknowledged that the rush to build schools over recent years had led to construction flaws.
"We've attached great importance to the questions of family members regarding school quality," Wei said.
Millions of people are still displaced because of the quake, Wei said, and are facing a winter that's forecast to be colder than usual in thin tents and makeshift shelters. They need supplies to repair their homes and survive the coming winter.
"During the post-disaster period of relocations, we have placed at the core the work of making sure that thousands of affected people, especially those living in extremely cold and remote rural areas, will live safely and warmly through this wintertime," Wei said.
Chen Kefu, deputy director of Sichuan's civil affairs department, said there is a shortage of 330,000 quilts for the quake victims. Electric blankets and heating appliances are also needed.
Clothing, food and water are also expected to be needed during the winter months in the areas that are still trying to rebound from the disaster.
Wei said that as of Nov. 12, nearly 200,000 homes had been rebuilt and 685,000 homes were under reconstruction. But another 1.94 million households still needed to be rebuilt or repaired.
More than 1,300 schools have been reconstructed or are being worked on, and site selection has started for relocating residents of 25 townships, including Beichuan and Wenchuan, two of the most devastated areas, he said.
With files from the Associated Press and Reuters