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Published:May 14th, 2008 06:17 EST
Workers still 40 km from China quake epicenter

Workers still 40 km from China quake epicenter

By SOP newswire2

Road repair workers were still 40 km from the epicenter of the devastating southwest China earthquake on Wednesday morning, a senior official of the Ministry of Transport said on Wednesday.

He did not say when the road to the county of Wenchuan, Sichuan Province, might be open.

"We are progressing as quickly as possible on a road from Lixian to Wenchuan from the west, and people are about 50 to 70 km from Wenchuan on three other roads leading to the epicenter," Vice Minister of Transport Feng Zhenglin told a press conference here.

More than 5,000 workers and more than 400 machines were at the site working 24 hours a day, Feng said.

However, progress was very slow due to the rugged mountain landscape and the great damage, he said.

Roads to the epicenter were only 8.5 meters wide in some places, allowing only one earth-moving machine to operate, he added.

"We have the strength and equipment for the job, but we cannot use it. We can only push forward one meter at a time."

Feng said conditions also prevented them from using explosives to speed up the repair work as the area was unstable after the quake.

"We have sent five technological survey teams to check the roads ahead on foot in order to find out what is needed to reopen the road as soon as possible," he added.

"If the inspection work is properly done, we will be able to progress at a much quicker pace," he said.

"We will also be able to tell from the survey results which path among the four roads would be the easiest to clear, and put all our crew and machines on that path to reopen it," he added.

A ministry official said on Tuesday that repair worker might be able to reopen the roads into Wenchuan in about two days.

Roads to the epicenter were closed due to damage caused by the 7.8-magnitude quake, and the situation was making rescue efforts difficult more than 48 hours after the quake.

However, highways in Sichuan Province had all reopened, and traffic was moving on major roads leading to Chengdu, Deyang, Mianyang and Ya'an.

A road from Mianyang to Beichuan, one of the worst-hit areas, had been opened, and rescue vehicles could enter, he said.