LONGTOUSHAN, China (AFP) - Rescuers searched in the rubble of a quake-struck Chinese village on Tuesday, with relatives facing the stark probability that only the remains of their loved ones could be found.
Two days after a magnitude 6.1 tremor devastated the once-idyllic mountainside village of Longtoushan in southwest China's Yunnan province, at least 398 people have been confirmed dead, with 80,000 houses destroyed and 124,000 seriously damaged.
Li Shanyan watched anxiously as rescuers dug through the debris of her home in Longtoushan, the epicentre of the quake, searching for her 71-year-old aunt.
"We could still hear her yesterday morning," said Li, 35. "(The rescuers) dug for a whole day and couldn't find her."
The house is made of yellow earth, with a tiled roof.
"It was flattened, all flattened," she said. "We couldn't salvage anything - all was buried in there. Everything is reduced to ruins."
"It's just like Wenchuan in 2008," she added, referring to the huge earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan province that killed more than 80,000 people, China's deadliest quake since 1950.
Moments later, she sobbed as rescuers dug out her aunt's lifeless body from under the wreckage.
More than 18,000 rescuers were deployed in Yunnan, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the disaster zone on Monday.
"With each life saved, there will be one more happy family," Li told soldiers, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.
As the sun shone over Longtoushan - which has a population of more than 50,000 - during the morning, the huge extent of devastation on a 600-metre hillside swathe of the township became more visible.
Nearly every building in that area, some of them five stories high, was almost entirely demolished by the quake, giving the appearance that the ground underneath them gave way entirely.
Many of the more modern buildings in the centre of Longtoushan appeared to be less severely damaged, but brick and old-style wooden houses were seriously affected.
A landslide on a nearby mountain two weeks ago has also hampered the relief effort, residents said, leaving a small bridge the only connection between Longtoushan and the outside world.
"Water in the wells is all tainted with mud," Li Shanyan said. "The government distributes a little (food and water), which we give to old people and children first." Each adult has about a half a bottle of water each day, she added.
"I feel too sad to eat, though there is not much to eat anyway."