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Bad weather hampers rescue effort in China -

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ELEANOR HALL: China is pouring troops into the earthquake-ravaged province of Sichuan as
thunderstorms and heavy rain hamper the search efforts for survivors.

At least 12,000 people are known to have died in the country's biggest earthquake in decades, but
tens-of-thousands more are missing under collapsed buildings and mud.

Little is known of the devastation at the quake's epicentre in Wenchuan County. Although about
60,000 people are unaccounted for there.

China was planning to parachute troops and supplies into the region but was forced to call that off
due to the bad weather.

Stephen McDonell is the ABC's China Correspondent. He is travelling through the worst affected
areas, towards the epicentre, and I spoke to him a short time ago.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: OK well I'm standing in the middle of Yaojinsun (phonetic) which is a small
village up in the mountains to the North of the capital Chengdu and basically the whole village has
been flattened there's not a house left standing, there are pieces of certain houses, left
standing. And basically the people here are saying that all around here it's sort of a similar
situation in surrounding villages, it's still a pretty sad thing I've got to say.

At one stage we walked through here and we were looking around talking to the villagers and then we
noticed that in the middle of one of the houses that had been (inaudible) fallen over. There's an
80-year-old man and his body's lying in the middle and his family and friends are sitting around
in... actually right now and having some make-shift funeral for this 80-year-old man. And their
burning paper money as the Chinese custom at a funeral. You know to give someone money in the
afterlife and also burning incense and the body of that 80-year-old man is lying in the rubble of
his house.

ELEANOR HALL: Now rescue workers have finally reached the epicentre of the quake. What can you tell
us about what they're being confronted with?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well where the epicentre of the quake was. Its amazing how little information is
actually getting out of there. That rescue workers have actually been struggling to get into that
area in bad whether, with roads collapsed, landslides. They have even been sending paratroopers in
there to try and get to the people who are still stuck in Wenchuan which was at the epicentre.

I think that in the coming days we're going to have a pretty grim picture being painted for us of
what's going on in Wenchuan, because the destruction here, I mean I can tell you as we came up this
road, it's not just this village - it's just village after village after village.

And the further we came into the mountains the more the destruction is.

ELEANOR HALL: The whether has been a real problem holding up efforts even to get to people is it
still raining and what are the forecasts?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: We drove up here this morning from Chengdu, really we left about two or three in
the morning and it pored rain all the way. Now we've just come into this mountain valley and it's
just cleared a bit here. And maybe, that I suppose for this area might be a sort of good sign
because further up the road, we have Beichaun which is a very large area city where their talking
about thousands of people who are still buried up Beichaun.

They'll be welcoming a change in the whether because it's been terrible to try and get through
rubble and to be digging with the rain pouring down, people slipping all over the place and also to
get through on the roads for that matter.

ELEANOR HALL: The soldiers who reached the worst effected area had to go in on foot is there much
hope of rescuing people without that heavy lifting equipment that they can normally bring in?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: According to reports we've heard, we're hearing people calling out for help under
large, I suppose what you would call hills of rubble and they didn't have the equipment needed to
clear those hills of rubble so it might be pretty tough for them actually. I can't imagine that
just by using your bare hands - for example where I'm standing right now there is rubble all around
me, you could never move it if you wanted to, with your hands, you would need heavy lifting
equipment.

ELEANOR HALL: What about the schools, have soldiers been able to get to all the schools and get the
children out now?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: No they're still struggling away at those various schools. The one that we went
to yesterday was the 900 students are still there. And actually in that area there were several
other schools quite close to there which also had students trapped. An interesting thing I suppose
to have come out of going to that school that we went to yesterday was that you could see the only
part of those buildings that was left standing was the stairwell and there's a little bit of that
in this village as well.

You can see that larger buildings, people say that you should go to a stairwell for protection and
it does seem to pan out that way. In that school yesterday virtually all that was left standing was
the stairwell and all around there was just buildings which was collapsed.

ELEANOR HALL: And Stephen what's the Government saying about its ability to handle the disaster?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well they're certainly not saying that they are... don't have the numbers I suppose
for people to put into this or that sort of thing. But there also urging rescue workers on, not to
waste a minute because they are the words from Premier Wen Jiabao is that wasting you know even one
minute or even one second could be a child's life.

Because the other thing that's being said is that it's not too late still to rescue people. There
will be people in the rubble who can still be pulled out and will have survived and for rescue
workers not to give up hope. I suppose the thing that powers them on is if they can rescue someone
and see what they're doing is worth while, I suppose and start digging again.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Stephen McDonell the ABC's China correspondent in Sichuan province.