China struggled to bury the dead and help tens of thousands of injured, homeless and hungry on Friday, four days after a massive earthquake which is thought to have killed more than 50,000.
President Hu Jintao flew to the battered province of Sichuan and Premier Wen Jiabao said the quake damage could exceed the devastating 1976 tremor in the northeastern city of Tangshan that killed up to 300,000 people.
Wen called on officials to ensure social stability as frustration and exhaustion grew among survivors, many of whom lost everything and were living in tents or in the open air.
Anger has also focused on the state of school buildings, many of which crumpled in the quake, burying hundreds of children and prompting the housing ministry to order an investigation.
“If only there is the slightest hope, we will spare no effort. If only there is one survivor in the debris, we will never give up,” Wen said over the debris of a collapsed school where hundreds were buried.
Thousands of residents from Beichuan, one of the areas worst hit by Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake, streamed down the road away from the town, carrying babies, bags, boxes and suitcases as they left in search of shelter.
A body lay covered on a makeshift stretcher by the side of the road, abandoned by someone unable to carry it further. Rocks the size of cars lay on the surface, evidence of landslides triggered by the quake.
The town was a scene of devastation, with virtually every building either demolished or damaged beyond habitation. “We can’t make people leave, but we're urging them to leave,” said a soldier on the road.
To the south, in the village of Houzhuang, residents said they were coping on their own, aid and troops yet to reach them. “We ate some corn, but now we are suffering from diarrhoea after drinking water from the ditch for two days,” a resident surnamed Liu said.