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Archive for Tuesday, April 27, 2004

N. Korea balks at South’s aid

April 27, 2004

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— North Korea balked Monday at opening its heavily armed border to relief trucks from rival South Korea, even as international aid groups sought more help for thousands injured or made homeless by a massive train explosion.

As a cold rain fell on the devastated community of Ryongchon, relief workers warned that more food, blankets and medicine were needed immediately in the impoverished nation.

Video released by the United Nations showed patients squeezed two to a bed in shabby hospitals, with compresses over their eyes and facial injuries from being struck by a wave of glass, rubble and heat in Thursday's blast.

Aid workers said North Korea was short of even basic equipment like sutures and intravenous drips, and that donated goods were being used up as quickly as they could be supplied.

The Red Cross distributed a three-month supply of antibiotics, anesthetics and bandages to North Korean hospitals over the weekend, but "according to the hospitals, they have already used these medical supplies and have requested more," said Niels Juel, an official for the agency who is based in Beijing.

The casualty toll stood at 161 dead and more than 1,300 injured by the explosion of oil and chemicals, aid agencies said.

"The overall health system ... is very strained," said Brendan McDonald, a U.N. aid coordinator in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Electrical power and water supplies are "all inadequate," he said.

The Red Cross launched an emergency appeal Monday for $1.25 million in aid for North Korea. "Some families have lost all their belongings," Juel said. "Also, the water and sanitation system in that area would need to be restored."

Days after the catastrophe, details still only were trickling out from the secretive, communist North. Aid workers who first arrived Saturday in Ryongchon described seeing huge craters, twisted railroad tracks and scorched buildings.

The parents of a 9-year-old victim of Thursday's train explosion
sit beside their injured son at a hospital in Sinuiju, North Korea.
Aid workers said Monday the country was lacking in even the most
basic medical supplies and equipment to treat those injured in the
blast.

The parents of a 9-year-old victim of Thursday's train explosion sit beside their injured son at a hospital in Sinuiju, North Korea. Aid workers said Monday the country was lacking in even the most basic medical supplies and equipment to treat those injured in the blast.

Nearly half of the dead were children in a school torn apart by the blast, and the disaster left thousands of residents homeless, the aid workers said.

One worker who toured a hospital in the nearby city of Sinuiju said injured children lay on filing cabinets because there weren't enough beds. The hospital was "short of just about everything," said Tony Banbury, Asia regional director for the U.N. World Food Program, after his visit Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday the United States would give financial assistance but gave no further details.

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