CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - China raised the number of dead or missing from a devastating earthquake to more than 70,000 on Tuesday, as rescuers found more survivors eight days after the huge tremor hit.
A government statement said the number killed had now topped 40,000, and state news agency Xinhua reported that a further 32,000 were missing.
Authorities had previously said they expected the final death toll to exceed 50,000. More than 247,000 were injured.
Anger was building among bereaved parents in Sichuan over the way many school buildings had collapsed, burying whole classrooms full of children. In one town, in a rare public protest, hundreds demanded punishment for anyone guilty of shoddy construction.
Xinhua reported a 60-year-old woman was rescued in Pengzhou, more than 196 hours after the May 12 quake struck. It said she had survived on rainwater.
In Wenchuan county, epicenter of the quake in mountainous Sichuan province, Ma Yuanjiang, 31, was found alive. His body was “as fragile as that of a newborn baby”, Chongqing Xinqiao hospital president Wang Weidong said, according to Xinhua.
Rescuers also pulled about 10 people off a mountain near Shifang town where they had been building an electricity generation station when the quake struck.
Li Tengchang, 38, said 40 of his colleagues had been killed by falling boulders, and that others were still alive on the mountain.
“When the wait wore on, we thought no one would come save us and we would probably die,” said Li, who was being treated for kidney damage. “I survived purely on my will. I told myself I had to live and I had to survive. I have a 60-year-old mother, a wife and two young children.”
Meanwhile, nearly 9,000 people were evacuated from the base of Shiziliang Mountain near Guangyuan city over concerns about huge cracks on its slopes. And Beichuan, one the of the worst hit towns, was closed off after official warnings of fresh tremors.
In the provincial capital of Chengdu, tens of thousands of people were preparing to sleep another night in the open, despite pleas by authorities for calm after a television prediction of another powerful earthquake.
That report, along with fresh aftershocks and forecast heavy rain, compounded the difficulties for military, government and private workers trying to ensure millions of homeless are fed and housed.
Hundreds of aftershocks have been felt over the past week, bringing down more buildings and causing landslides.
The quake warning also prompted panic in neighboring Chongqing municipality and Guizhou province.
But there was no sign of panic, just quiet resignation that more aftershocks were inevitable as darkness fell over Chengdu.
“Last night the predicted aftershock didn’t happen,” said Wang Jun, as she set up a tent in the city. “Anyway it’s nicer outside, it’s better for your health.”
The most lamented victims of the quake have been the thousands of children who died when school buildings collapsed.
In Juyuan town, hundreds of grieving parents demanded an annual memorial day for their children, punishment of officials or builders responsible for shoddy schools and compensation.
“How come all the houses didn’t fall down, but the school did? And how come that happened in so many places?” demanded Zhao, whose two daughters were crushed to death.
“We want a memorial day for the children, but we also want criminal prosecution of those responsible, no matter who they are.”
As China’s ruling Communist Party seeks to maintain a staunch front of unity and stability after the quake, the incipient protests by parents could be troublesome, for many of them blame official graft and laxity, more than nature, for the deaths.
State media quoted a military source as saying rescuers had reached all the villages and towns in Sichuan province by Tuesday evening.
Whole towns have been flattened in mountainous areas north and west of Chengdu, and about 5 million people are homeless, prompting the government to seek foreign help in the form of tents.
The quake has prompted a huge outpouring of public sympathy both at home and abroad, with 13.9 billion yuan raised to date.
Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Roger Crabb and Alex Richardson