Official warns of plague risk in quake-razed Chinese towns

ChinaBeijing - Thousands of bodies rotting under rubble after the devastating earthquake in south-western China's Sichuan province could cause plague outbreaks if they are not buried quickly, state media on Friday quoted a local official as saying.

Damage to roads leading to some of the worst-hit towns and villages has prevented rescue services from using excavators and cranes to lift rubble, Bai Lincheng a senior official in Sichuan's Aba prefecture, told the official Xinhua news agency.

Many of the bodies recovered by troops and civilian rescue workers were left out in the open, unburied, Bai said.

"We are in urgent need of body bags," he was quoted as saying.

About 20,000 people were confirmed dead in Sichuan following Monday's quake and some 30,000 people are believed to be still buried under rubble.
Bai, who joined rescue work in Yingxiu, one of the worst-hit towns, said there was also an urgent need for food and water in the town.

"Air-dropped food and drinking water are limited and far from meeting the demand," he said.

Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang on Thursday said the government was working to prevent the outbreak of epidemic diseases in quake-hit areas and would dispose of recovered bodies as soon as possible to reduce the health risk.

The term plague covers several potentially fatal diseases that are often transmitted to humans by rats, marmots and other rodents.

The most common form is the bubonic plague, which became known as the "Black Death" after a major outbreak spread to Europe from Central Asia in the 14th century.

Small outbreaks of bubonic plague are sometimes reported in remote areas of western China and Mongolia. (dpa)