Relief efforts at the epicenter of a weekend earthquake that left at least 398 people dead in the southwestern province of Yunnan were severely hampered Monday by landslides and torrential rain.
About 230,000 people have been evacuated following the collapse of about 12,000 homes in the 6.1 magnitude quake which struck Sunday in Ludian county, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) northeast of Yunnan province's capital, Kunming, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
While rescue teams were trawling through rubble, laying bodies out in the streets of Yunnan's worst-hit Longtoushan township, volunteers and survivors said many people had likely died of injuries in spite of having been dug out from the ruins of buildings.
Those who did survive were soaked by the rainfall, and still lack food and medication, rescue workers and victims told RFA.
"We were all there when the earthquake started," a survivor surnamed Li from Ludian's Shuimo township told RFA. "A lot of the roof beams fell in on the houses."
"This evening, there is a chorus of children crying, but we haven't dared to go back inside all night."
"There were some aftershocks today ... The electricity went down for two to three hours, then came back on again," Li said.
"The bigger trees have all fallen down, and the smaller roads have been cut off, although I think the highways are all running normally," he said.
Some of the injured died while being carried out on stretchers, one volunteer rescue worker told RFA from the scene of the disaster in Ludian county.
"There are a number of towns and villages that have been very hard hit, and people coming out of them are telling us that all the buildings were flattened," the volunteer said.
"Yesterday, a lot of the injured died in the night because they couldn't be evacuated," he said. "Now they are restricting traffic to ambulances and military vehicles, so as to make it easier to save lives."
He said some of the traffic restrictions were linked to an official visit to the disaster zone by Premier Li Keqiang, although some relief work was now using helicopters.
"I saw helicopters flying back and forth today, but the villages I have been to haven't received any relief supplies yet at all," he said.
"They are having to help themselves as best they can by digging stuff out of the rubble, like fabric to shade themselves from the sun," he said.
He said water is now "extremely scarce," and that earthquake victims are being forced to use existing sources which may now be unsafe.
"Our company is a water purification company, but we can't get into those villages yet," he said.
Meanwhile, a worker at a blood donation center in nearby Zhaotong city said medical relief was continually hampered by torrential rains that had struck the area shortly after the earthquake rocked towns and villages across one of the country's most beautiful mountainous regions.
"It is pouring rain right now, with around a meter of rainfall every hour," she said. "More than 300 people have donated blood, but it definitely won't be enough."
"Judging from the injured I have seen ... one injured person is using donated blood from several different people."
She said the death toll could still rise further.
"It's impossible to know how many people have been killed or injured because some of them are still under the rubble," she said.
China has declared a top-level emergency in the wake of the quake, pouring 18,000 rescue workers into the region, whose work was hampered by heavy rain and narrow mountain roads blocked by landslides and rockfalls, official media reported on Monday.
State broadcasts said rescuers were digging for survivors in the rubble of some 12,000 homes that collapsed during the Sunday afternoon quake in remote Ludian county.
Lack of supplies
A resident of Longjin village near Longtoushan surnamed Mao said local people were unable to enter their flattened homes in search of food.
"We need medicines and food, but local farmers' houses have been flattened, so we can't get at the food," Mao said. "There hasn't been any relief yet. We are all still waiting for it."
"It's been a whole day since the quake but the rescue workers haven't come yet, and we have no way to get off the mountain," he said. "There have been aftershocks this whole time."
He said local people were now sheltering on the sportsground of a nearby primary school.
"Three, four hundred of us are sleeping huddled together at night under a tarpaulin," Mao said. "Some stand, some sit. That's all we can do."
"Yesterday, all we had to eat was potatoes, and today we had a little rice gruel," he said.
Meanwhile, in nearby Qiaojia county, soldiers and other rescue workers were making there way into the quake-hit region on foot after some sections of the highway collapsed, according to a local resident surnamed Zhou.
"Things are pretty bad here; a lot of people have been injured, and many of the roads have caved in," he said.
"We need emergency relief supplies and manpower," Zhou said. "There is a shortage of everything."
"We have sent some people to help in the mountainous area, where a lot of houses collapsed," he added.
In need of tents
Shui Cao, a rescue worker with the Lantian voluntary team from Xiamen, said many people were sleeping in the open and desperately in need of tents, quilts and padded overcoats.
"The most important thing is tents, because it keeps raining across the whole area," Shui said.
"There hasn't [been enough help from the government]. We haven't even been able to contact the government."
Repeated calls to the Ludian and Qiaojia county governments rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.