BEICHUAN, China – Stunned survivors huddled in makeshift shelters lining the mountain road into one of the remotest corners of China's earthquake zone, as troops marched by Friday to find scenes of utter devastation.
Buildings not flattened or toppled into piles of smoking debris in Beichuan county were left tilting at awkward angles — evidence of the violent power of the quake that struck four days earlier.
Beichuan, a region of small mines and tea plantations whose forest-clad hills are the habitat for rare pandas, was among the hardest hit by the temblor, which shattered roads and set off landslides that left its three major towns and 13 smaller villages isolated.
State media said Friday that soldiers and police who had flooded into the disaster zone had finally reached all of the hardest-hit isolated mountain counties and townships near the epicenter.
On the roadside leading into Beichuan, a region of more than 160,000 residents about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the provincial capital of Chengdu, hundreds of families were camped with whatever belongings they could salvage and carry.
Some fled from outlying villages broken in the quake to bigger towns, only to find them, too, destroyed.
"We've lost everything. There's nothing left of our village, nothing left of our home," said Pan Guihui, a small woman with a vacant stare.
She and her husband, 1-year-old child, father and two brothers had hiked 13 hours from their village further up the mountain. They had only the clothes they were wearing and a little food.
"I have just been so frightened this whole time. I don't know what we are going to do," said Pan, 35.
As she spoke, hundreds of soldiers marched by in long columns along the road, some carrying shovels. Other civilians also walked by, dodging debris on the roadway and carrying their belongings on their backs as they headed out of Beichuan.
At one point, it appeared as if a giant hand had scraped away part of the mountainside, and fallen boulders that formed giant roadblocks forced military trucks and cranes to edge their way around them.
Dozens of people trudged up the winding mountain road carrying backpacks and gripping bags of food and medical supplies — relatives hopeful of finding loved ones.
Among them was Liu Jingyong, a 43-year-old migrant worker, who rushed back from Zhenghzou city several provinces away to try to find his cousin.
"I have not had any information from him," Liu said. "I tried to rush back as soon as I could, but there were no flights and I had to take a bus."
The trip had taken him two days and he was walking the last little bit.
"This is so hard on me. I don't know what is going on," he said.
Police blocked the last few miles of the road into Beichuan to everything but emergency vehicles, as President Hu Jintao flew in and visited a collapsed school, where rescuers on Friday pulled a student trapped for 80 hours.
Rescuers in Beichuan also pulled a nurse from a clinic and two other people from another building who had survived 96 hours in the rubble, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.