Chinese President Hu Flies to Tibetan Quake Zone

Chinese President Hu Jintao flew to the remote, mountainous Tibetan region devastated by an earthquake as the flow of rescue supplies picked up pace Sunday.

Hu flew from Beijing after cutting short an official trip to South America to deal with the disaster that killed nearly 1,500 people in western China.

Residents could be seen at makeshift sidewalk stores buying food. The Ministry of Commerce said it was sending 30 modified vans that will become mobile stores.

Most survivors were living in tents and had basic food and clean water, said Zou Ming, head of the disaster relief at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told a news conference in Beijing.

Still, Zou said, getting aid to the region, which is a 12-hour drive from the provincial capital, remained a problem.

He said 25,000 tents, more than 50,000 cotton-padded quilts, and 850 tons of instant food and drinking water had been delivered to the quake zone.

The death toll stood at 1,484 people, Zou said, adding that another 312 people were still missing as of Saturday evening.

Some of the dead have been cremated. In a hillside ceremony Saturday, Buddhist monks in face masks set ablaze piles of blanket-wrapped bodies in a mass cremation, as necessity forced them to break with the local tradition of "sky burials" — leaving corpses on a platform to be devoured by vultures.

Rescue workers were still searching for survivors and bodies in schools. The quake destroyed more than a third of the school buildings in Jiegu and rendered the rest dangerous, according to a statement on the Qinghai provincial government's news Web site. It said at least 103 students were killed, and another 684 students and teachers were wounded with 73 either buried in rubble or missing.

Shattered schools remain a sensitive issue in China, where a devastating 2008 quake killed thousands of students during class, and the buildings and code enforcement were found to be inferior. But Wednesday's quake flattened schools and other buildings alike.

The first makeshift school started classes Saturday, with 60 elementary and middle school students singing the national anthem, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. More classes were expected to resume Sunday.

In town, residents who had camped outdoors amid the debris and lived for days on water and instant noodles eagerly stuffed vegetables into plastic bags as a woman sold eggs and cans of soft drinks on the sidewalk, one of the first vendors to receive goods from out of town.

The exiled Dalai Lama said Saturday he'd like to visit the site, though he has never returned to China since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

"To fulfill the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort," the Tibetan spiritual leader said. China hasn't commented but is unlikely to allow a visit after long accusing the Dalai Lama of fomenting separatism in Tibetan areas.