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Chinese rescuers fight clock to find quake survivors as death toll hits 791

YUSHU, Qinghai, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of rescuers are fighting the clock to pull more survivors from the earthquake debris in a remote northwest China town as the optimum survival time of 72 hours ticks away.

By Friday at least two dozen trained rescuers had stood down due to altitude sickness, said police and military sources participating in the rescue.

The 7.1-magnitude quake hit the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu in Qinghai Province early Wednesday. By Friday, at least 791 people were confirmed dead, 11,486 were injured, and 294 remain missing.

The tremor flattened 15,000 residential buildings in Gyegu town near the epicenter and many people are believed to still be trapped under the rubble, rescuers said.

The impoverished town sits about 4,000 meters above sea level. Conditions are especially hard for the injured who are yet to be reached.

Tibetan woman Jang La, 43, told Xinhua at a medical tent that she was buried for more than 50 hours and had no access to food and water.

"I thought no one would manage to save us and I lost hope, but as I yelled and yelled for help, they came and rescued us," Jang said.

Medical attendant Jiao Xiaojie said Jang's hips were crushed under falling masonry, but her condition appeared stable.

Jiao said he had treated four or five people who were rescued Friday morning.

A string of survivors on Friday were sent to the emergency tents for treatment at Gyegu. Trucks carrying the sick and the injured zigzagged out of the mountanous region to the provincial capital of Xining.

"The first 72 hours offers the best chance of survival after a calamity strikes," said Xi Mei, a medical attendant with the China International Rescue Medical Team.

But time is running out.

Fu Yong, head of a group rescuers from Lanzhou, Gansu Province, said they had pulled out six bodies, but no survivors.

"The possibility of survival is getting slim, but we are still looking for miracles," he said.

Thousands of professional rescuers, soldiers, police, fire-fighters and medical workers have been mobilized nationwide for the rescue operation.

Premier Wen Jiabao arrived at Yushu late Thursday to oversee work.

"We will make all-out efforts to build a new Yushu," Wen said while visiting residents Friday.

He urged them to take care of themselves and "love and care for each other in the face of difficulties, as this is where our hope lies."

Rescuers and sniffer dogs had to fight altitude sickness and rough weather in the mountainous Tibetan region.

More than two dozen fire-fighters from the country's southern coast had to back out of the operation after suffering altitude sickness, sources with the rescue headquarters said.

A Xinhua reporter saw a couple of soldiers looking sick and vomiting as they dug through the rubble. Some were having drip treatment at the rescue site.

"(Altitude sickness) is not an issue. The focus is to find survivors and we will never give up," Fu said.



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