China quake death toll tops 51,000

China said the death toll from last week's powerful earthquake has jumped to more than 51,000, while the government appealed for millions of tents to shelter homeless survivors.

The confirmed number of dead rose to 51,151 - a jump of almost 10,000 from the day before. Another 29,328 people remain missing and nearly 300,000 were hurt in the May 12 earthquake centred in Sichuan province.

The disaster destroyed or damaged millions of homes, including more than 80% of the buildings in some remote towns and villages near the epicentre. In bigger cities, whole apartment blocks collapsed or are now too dangerous to live in because of damage and worries about aftershocks.

The Chinese government renewed an international appeal for help in housing some of the five million homeless survivors. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "We need more than 3.3 million tents."

He said 400,000 tents have already been delivered.

"We hope and welcome international assistance in this regard. We hope the international community can give priority in providing tents," he said.

Meanwhile, the Olympic torch relay resumed its run through China following a three-day national mourning period for quake victims. The relay, a symbol of the country's hopes for the Beijing Olympics, started with a minute's silence at a container terminal in the eastern seaport city of Ningbo. The torch run has been toned down from its previous boisterous celebration of the forthcoming Olympics since the earthquake. The first torchbearer, crane operator Zhu Shijie, said: "Your love is our hope. We all must fight the earthquake together."

Later, China's commerce minister took the unusual step of thanking foreign companies on national television for donating earthquake aid, dismissing accusations spread on Chinese websites that they were doing too little.

"We have seen the greatest amount of donations from the international community ever in history," Chen Deming said at a news conference. He rejected as "totally unfounded" complaints posted on Chinese websites that foreign companies were "international misers".

As of today, foreign companies had given 1.7 billion yuan (£124 million) in cash and 200 million yuan (£14.5 million) in supplies, including food, tents and bottled water, Chen said.