China accepts quake rescue offers from Russia, ROK, Singapore

BEIJING, May 16 (Xinhua) -- China has accepted offers from Russia, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Singapore to send rescue teams to the quake-hit Sichuan Province as the first foreign rescuers from Japan entered the area early on Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said early Friday morning that the Chinese government has accepted offers from the three countries by taking into consideration of their contiguity to China, which may ensure promptness of the aid.

A 31-member Japanese rescue team arrived in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China, early on Friday to assist local disaster relief efforts. Another 29 members will arrive Friday afternoon.

The Japanese rescuers, made up of fire fighters, police, Japan Coast Guard personnel and members of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, were the first foreign aid personnel to China following the devastating 7.8-magnitude quake which jolted a wide range of areas on Monday.

Japan's offer of sending a professional emergency relief team to the quake-hit areas showed the Japanese government and people's care, "especially when China is in a difficult time," Qin Gang said Thursday.

As of 2 p.m. on Thursday, 151 countries and 14 regional or international organizations had offered support in various forms.

China is deeply grateful for the messages of support and the earthquake relief aid coming from the international community, Qin told a regular press conference.

More than 50,000 people are feared dead in Sichuan alone after Monday's earthquake, the rescue headquarters of the State Council said Thursday.

The confirmed death toll in Sichuan was 19,509 by 4 p.m. Thursday, up by 5,046 from Wednesday's 14,463. Another 102,103 people were injured and 12,323 buried in the rubble.

The Sichuan provincial government has also accepted the assistance of professional rescue teams from Hong Kong and Taiwan, which are expected to arrive in Sichuan soon, vice governor Li Chengyun said.

It was the worst earthquake to strike China since the Tangshan earthquake in northern Hebei Province in 1976, in which 242,000 people lost their lives.

The tremors were also felt in most parts of the country.

In regions neighboring Sichuan, 280 were killed in Gansu Province, 106 in Shaanxi Province, 14 in Chongqing Municipality, two in Henan Province, one in Yunnan Province and one in Hubei Province.