New Delhi, May 24: China's earthquake death toll has passed 60,000 and could rise to 80,000 or more, Premier Wen Jiabao today said as he and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the disaster area. Wen's estimate was a sharp increase over the 55,740 deaths reported earlier by the government in the May 12 quake. "The fatalities are over 60,000," Wen said. "It may further climb to a level of 70,000, 80,000 or more."
The announcement came as experts searched for 15 radiation sources buried in the rubble and survivors moved out of possible danger areas downstream from rivers dammed by landslides. With their waters pooling, the blocked rivers could breach the earthen barriers, a danger that would grow with coming rains or aftershocks.
Relief workers were grappling with finding tents and getting food and medical care for the displaced. Ban, the UN Chief, promised help with reconstruction and said the world body was waiting for China's assessment of what it needed. "If we work hard we can overcome this," Ban said, with Wen standing at his side. "The whole world stands behind you and supports you."
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has allocated 15.1 billion yuan for quake relief operations so far, the country's finance ministry said on Saturday.