LONGTOUSHAN, China - More than 400 people have died in an earthquake that devastated a Chinese village, officials said Tuesday, as relatives faced the stark probability that rescuers would only find the remains of their loved ones.
The death toll had risen to 410, authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan said in a statement, as concerns mounted over a barrier lake formed by a landslide blocking a river in the disaster zone.
Some state media reports speculated that the swollen waters may burst within days, potentially flooding the downstream area.
The magnitude 6.1 tremor destroyed 80,000 houses and seriously damaged 124,000 more, wrecking the once-idyllic mountainside village of Longtoushan, where residents confronted their losses.
"My daughter and I have no hope for the future," said farmer Lan Helian, 32, whose husband was crushed by a collapsing building.
"He should have been outside in the field, he only returned for a few minutes," she said, holding her brow and staring at the floor.
"We have no money and I don't know what we are going to do." Li Shanyan, 35 watched anxiously as emergency personnel dug through the debris of her home, searching for her 71-year-old aunt.
"We could still hear her yesterday morning," said Li. "(The rescuers) dug for a whole day and couldn't find her." Like many in poverty-stricken Longtoushan, the crudely-made house is built from 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, where Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was overseeing the rescue effort, state-run media reported.
"With each life saved, there will be one more happy family," Li told soldiers, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.
Relatives of the dead will receive 20,000 yuan ($3,200) in compensation, state media said.
Longtoushan, the epicentre of the quake, has a population of more than 50,000, and nearly every building in a 600-metre hillside swathe of the township was almost entirely demolished by the quake.
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.
Scores of workers assembled a red metal bridge across a river which cuts through the heart of the valley township.
Engineers set off huge explosions to dislodge boulders and rocks perched precariously over the narrow, winding roads that snake through the mountains.