China

China says quake school toll over 19,000

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BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Schools that collapsed during China's May earthquake killed more than 19,000 people, nearly a quarter of the total deaths, an official said on Friday, giving the first government estimate.

The deaths of children, many buried under ruins of shoddily built classrooms while nearby buildings withstood the tremors, has been the most controversial aspect of the disaster.

The 7.9 magnitude quake killed more than 80,000 people and horrified China but spurred both government and private individuals into a largely effective and widely praised response.

But poignant images of satchels, toys and tiny desks scattered among twisted piles of concrete and weak steel drove home the extent of a devastation worsened by the timing of the tremor, which hit while students were almost all in school.

Beijing rapidly clamped down on reporting of the deaths, has refused to give a toll for nearly six months and has been trying to silence grieved parents looking for redress in the court system by paying compensation instead.

Wei Hong, vice governor of Sichuan province, said the toll was still provisional, and the government had not finished counting. He did not say whether the total was only students, or also included the many teachers killed with their pupils.

A Reuters survey of news reports of collapsed schools had previously put the toll from collapsed schools below 10,000.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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