In China, Hopes Fade for Buried Missing

The death toll in China has risen to nearly 20,000, making Monday's earthquake the deadliest in three decades there. Transport planes are dropping aid and rescue crews continue to dig for survivors, but the fate is uncertain for the estimated 25,000 still buried under rubble.

BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, Death Cab. I'm Rachel Martin.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Thursday, May 15th, 2008. Which death cab do you refer to, Rachel? Be more specific.

MARTIN: Yeah, to which death cab might you be referring? Death Cab for Cutie, Mike. Ever heard of them?

PESCA: I've heard of them, and I've heard them, when they played in our studios, and we're going to have some of that on the show. I believe that Death Camp for Cutie is a band that engenders strong reaction based on things other than their music. I think in some ways they have gotten an unfair wrap.

MARTIN: Why?

PESCA: Well, for one they are put in - this emo label has been applied to them and I don't understand that label.

MARTIN: I don't understand why that's a pejorative, frankly. I like emotions.

PESCA: Emo. Oh, I thought...

MARTIN: I like men that are emotional. Is that what it means?

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PESCA: I thought it was the red Muppet. You see, I don't - yeah.

MARTIN: You are so less hip and in-the-know that I am.

PESCA: I like the name of the band. Just the whole - it leads with death. Death Cab for Cutie, and I understand it's a name of a song. But we were talking before and I think you said, but there's "cutie" in there.

MARTIN: Cutie totally countermands any negative vibes from the death.

PESCA: But I think if it were cutie hailed the death cab, you'd have a totally different impression of the band. I know it wouldn't be the song.

MARTIN: That's a story, Cutie hailed the death cab.

PESCA: Yeah, that's a good opening line.

MARTIN: Anyway, we digress. Why are we talking about this? As my Mike mentioned, Death Cab for Cutie dropped by the BPP studios. They talked with us. We had a nice conversation. They played a few songs from the new album. It's called "Narrow Stairs." So you have that to look forward to in today's show. What else?

PESCA: There was a gigantic announcement by NASA yesterday.

MARTIN: According to them.

PESCA: Yeah, yeah. They found a supernova. The question is, why should you care? And we will try to make the case.

MARTIN: Also, on the show, getting aid into Myanmar. The military junta that runs that country is not letting a whole lot of aid in as we've been reporting. At least one country, France, is proposing forcing aid into the country. They say, you know what? If not now, when? This is when countries seem to band together and we just go in there without Myanmar's permission. We'll get into the how and why of that story later on this hour. We will get the day's news headlines in just a minute. But first...

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PESCA: The death toll in China has risen to more than 19,500, according to state media, making Monday's earthquake the deadliest in three decades there.

MARTIN: Transport planes continue to drop aid and rescue crews continue digging for survivors, but hopes are starting to fade for the estimated 25,000 people still buried under rubble. And many of those who did survive are facing homelessness and water shortages.

PESCA: The Chinese government has issued a rare public appeal for rescue equipment. NPR's Melissa Block is in the hardest-hit region. She says the residents are giving the government's rescue efforts mixed reviews.

MELISSA BLOCK: In the village I visited today, we heard a lot of anger directed toward local officials, who people said were corrupt, were bad, were not taking people's concerns seriously, that the relief effort was not going well. At the same time, we heard great praise for the Chinese central government and how it has responded to this disaster.

Remember that the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, immediately after this earthquake, flew to these most badly -hit areas. He's been going to schools. He went to the middle school that I had been to, the school that had collapsed. He's been to hospitals that have been collapsed. He has been out here. He is a geologist by training, by the way, so he would know things about earthquakes and what happens.

PESCA: And Block says that aftershocks continued to make the region a scary place to be.

BLOCK: All through these past three days we have felt a series of fairly strong aftershocks, magnitude five and higher, and when they happen, it's a scary thing. Buildings shift, and if you're sitting down, you feel the ground move. People come running out from under the eaves of buildings. No one wants to be near a tall structure in these villages that have already been badly hit, and the structures that are still standing are unstable. There's a lot of fear of what could fall down during these aftershocks.

MARTIN: But in spite of the dangers, rescue efforts continue, even as hope begin to fade for the thousands of people searching for their loved ones. Yesterday, Melissa Block spent the day with Chinese couple frantically searching for their toddler son, who was buried under debris along with his grandparents. Here is a bit of that report.

BLOCK: Hours crawl by. There is no news. Mrs. Foo (ph) and Mr. Wong (ph) fall into each other's arms.

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BLOCK: It's now noon. We've been here for several hours. Mrs. Foo has lost hope of finding her family it seems. She is saying, my son, I should have taken you to work with me. You were asking me to take you to work. Her husband is telling her, there's nothing we can do about it now. I need you to stay strong. I can't lose you anymore.

MARTIN: The couple's long wait ended in personal tragedy, when rescue workers found the bodies of their son and his grandparents.

PESCA: But more than 72 hours after the quake struck, there is still some happy endings. Yesterday, Chinese state television aired a video of the 22-year-old woman peering through a small opening in a pile of debris. She was pulled to safely a short time later.

MARTIN: You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's get more of the day's news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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