China Mourns Victims of Sichuan Quake With 3 Minutes of Silence

China’s Sichuan province began a day of mourning for 196 people killed in an April 20 earthquake, with wailing sirens signaling the start of three minutes of silence at 8:02 a.m., the time the temblor hit.

All public entertainment activities are being suspended today in the southwestern province as part of the commemoration, according to the provincial government. State broadcaster China Central Television showed local government officials, as well as representatives from troops, armed police, and volunteers who participated in the rescue in the past week present at a ceremony in Lushan county of Ya’an city, the quake’s epicenter.

The 6.6-magnitude earthquake, which struck in the same region as one in 2008 that killed about 87,000 people, prompted senior leaders including Premier Li Keqiang to travel to the region to oversee the government’s response amid concerns that aftershocks and damaged roads could slow rescue efforts. The focus has since shifted to rebuilding in Lushan.

The central government and Sichuan local government have allocated 1.51 billion yuan ($245 million) to aid local residents, and most of the towns affected have since resumed power, CCTV reported.

In traditional Chinese culture, family members mourn the deceased for seven weeks. The seventh day after the death is the first important day during the mourning period.

Volunteers rushed to the region after the temblor. Among them was Zhu Zhipeng, a 24-year-old liquor and cigarette merchant from the southern city of Shenzhen, who worked three days ferrying food and medicine to residents in Taiping, one of the towns worst hit by the quake. By April 25, he’d decided to head home.

Businesses Re-Open

“The army used helicopters to send the injured to hospitals and tents are now set up with supplies coming in,” Zhu said as he headed to the provincial capital of Chengdu by bus. “There’s not much for us to do in the area now.” Along the road, local villagers and children waved signs saying “thank you.”

In Lushan, grocery stores began re-opening for business on April 24, while residents waited in queues for free supplies of rice and noodles. Trucks brought in portable power generators and red banners reading “disaster relief” in Chinese were hung on damaged buildings.

Local governments have also begun assessing losses from the quake that injured about 12,000 people. Lushan estimated losses of 85 billion yuan ($13.8 billion), about 40 times the county’s total gross domestic product last year, the 21st Century Business Herald reported yesterday. Combined losses reported by the counties of Lushan, Baoxing and Tianquan reached 169 billion yuan, according to the newspaper.

The Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s top decision-making body, said April 24 that China would “make every effort” to look after residents in the quake-hit zone and make preparation for rebuilding.

After the 2008 earthquake, the Chinese government announced three days of national mourning, including a pause in the then-progressing torch relay for the Beijing Olympic Games.

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