I spent some time in the region where the earthquake hit worst last year on a story about pandas (the main panda breeding and research center at Wolong is near the epicenter) and fear that the casualty figures are bound to rise quite a bit. It’s a region of steep mountains bisected by narrow valleys which suffer from landslides even in the best of times. Many of the roads have been rendered impassable by the trmendous force of the quake and further blocked by rock slides. Right now, time is critical for those buried under collapsed buildings by from what we’ve seen and heard, it’ll be days before help can get through. To make matters worse it has been raining for some time.
And speaking of timing, the government’s response has been pretty amazing. Premier Wen Jiabao was on a plane within hours and has been seen constantly on TV, consoling victims (even those still trapped in the rubble in one case), poring over maps and giving orders. Obviously, there a large element of photo op in this but Wen really does appear to care about helping the victims, in contrast to the patently false smiles of sympathy that President Bush wore when he finally arrived in New Orleans after Katrina, for example.