Aid workers who were the first outsiders to reach the disaster site in the secretive communist country this weekend recounted seeing huge craters, twisted rail tracks and scorched buildings following Thursday's massive explosion in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border. 

But all of the 1300 people that North Korean officials said were injured in the catastrophe, along with the bodies of the dead, had been evacuated before the aid workers arrived at the nearby city of Sinuiju where the foreigners were not immediately able to visit. 

Homeless

North Korea blamed the disaster on human error, saying a train cargo of oil and chemicals ignited when workers knocked the wagons against power lines. 

Thousands of Ryongchon residents were left homeless in the disaster. 

"They've been taken in by other families. We were fearing people on the streets," Sparrow said on Sunday. "We breathed a big sigh of relief when we saw that wasn't the case." 

Chinese supplies

North Korean state television announced on Sunday that Chinese supplies were headed for Ryongchon, indicating the totalitarian government had notified its population of the catastrophe. 

Eleven trucks from China crossed the bridge into North Korea at 1:00 pm (05:00 GMT) on Sunday, carrying instant noodles, blankets, canned food and tents - materials worth US$120,000. 

The trucks were driven by Chinese People's Armed Police officers and bore red-and-white banners saying "donations from the government of the People's Republic of China." 

South Korea's Red Cross planned to send instant noodles, bottles of mineral water, blankets and clothing once the means of transportation is organised. 

At least 160 people have perished
in the deadly blast

Lee Yoon-goo, the Red Cross chief in Seoul, proposed coordinating relief efforts with North Korea's Red Cross in a telephone message via Red Cross liaison officers at the truce village of Panmunjom, in the buffer zone where the Koreas have faced off since their war in the early 1950s. 

Australian help

In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Sunday his country also would help if Pyongyang asked. "But at this stage, they do seem to be coping, albeit not very well, with this disaster," Downer told Australian television's Ten Network. 

Australia maintains diplomatic links with North Korea, but Downer said Australian diplomats had not been among a group of foreign aid workers and envoys who visited the site of the explosion this weekend.