CHENGDU, China – More than a week after a devastating earthquake ravaged China, signs of life from the rubble became extremely rare, yet not extinct.
Two people on Tuesday were pulled alive from the debris of the 7.9-magnitude temblor that killed more than 40,000 people in central China as rescuers shifted focus from finding survivors to caring for the injured and homeless.
A woman who survived by drinking rainwater was rescued after being trapped in the rubble of China's earthquake for more than 195 hours, news reports said, while a 31-year-old power plant director was pulled to safety hours earlier.
The 60-year-old suffered only a hip fracture and facial bruises during her eight-day ordeal, which began after a landslide swept away a temple in the city of Pengzhou, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television reported, citing air force officer Xie Ling Long.
The woman was initially free to move, but a later aftershock trapped her between two large stones, according to the report.
The official Xinhua news agency identified the woman as Wang Youqun, a retiree, and said she had been unconscious for a day when a falling girder hit her head in the May 12 quake. She was transported to a hospital in the provincial capital Chengdu, Phoenix said.
Hours before her rescue, Ma Yuanjiang was saved from the debris of the Yingxiu Bay Hydropower Plant, where he worked as a director, after a 30-hour rescue effort, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Ma was able to speak after the rescue and began to eat small amounts of food, his colleague Wu Geng told Xinhua, but his exact condition was unknown.
The tales of survival came as the confirmed death toll from the disaster increased to 40,075, according to the State Council, China's Cabinet. Officials have said the final number killed by the quake was expected to surpass 50,000.
Yuan Jiang used the alarm clock on his cell phone to keep track of how many days had passed since he was trapped.
The 37-year-old marketing executive was pinned under the remnants of his office building by a slab of concrete that made it difficult to breathe, yet still he shouted for help, talked with two co-workers buried elsewhere in the rubble and thought about his wife and daughter during his 70-hour ordeal.
Once a day, from somewhere in the wreckage, his alarm's stuttering beep sounded at 8 a.m., the time he normally woke up, letting him know another day had passed.
"I just waited and waited and waited for somebody to come," said Yuan, who was freed from the wreckage 70 hours after the devastating earthquake flattened his hometown of Beichuan.
Yuan suffered light injuries, fractures to his chest, a torn left ear, a bruised right eye, a chunk of scalp torn away and now bandaged. His 10-year-old daughter lived.
But Yuan's wife is buried under their home and presumed dead. "My wife is gone," he said from his hospital bed.
Beichuan is so wrecked that officials are talking about rebuilding on a new site, leaving the mounds of ruins as a monument to the thousands dead and the quake-shattered lives of its remaining 30,000 people. While rescue workers kept up a methodical hunt for survivors in recent days, fewer searched Tuesday, the pace slowing nine days after the quake.
Down the block from the now listing six-story Beichuan Hotel, Yuan was meeting with 20 others at his telecommunications company's sixth-floor office on May 12 when the building shook. At least eight of them rushed to a stairwell but made it only one floor down before everything crumbled.
A nearby wall splintered, shooting off a chunk of debris wide enough to cover Yuan from his stomach to his neck and pinning him to the floor. He could not move but, wedged at an angle, he could still take shallow, painful breaths in the hot, dusty air. His glasses were smashed, leaving him unable to see much beyond a few feet.
"I shouted until I had no more strength left," Yuan said Tuesday, his voice still hoarse. "I just wanted to escape."
In between his own screams, he heard others and recognized their voices, two co-workers, screaming "Help! Help!" They called to each other, talking about their injuries, and figured out where each was. One was on the floor above Yuan, the other on the floor below.
Then silence took over as the hours dragged on, though he said he couldn't sleep. While he did not know it, Beichuan was cut off.
Yuan tried to think of pleasant things to keep himself calm. "I thought about my wife, my daughter, all the people I love," he said. "I thought of everything that was precious to me."
Then, more than 17 hours in the rubble, Yuan heard his cell phone alarm, though he could not see it. Another day, he said. But it passed in the same dispiriting way as the first, small conversations and much silence. Other feelings intruded. "I didn't feel any hunger, but had a fierce thirst," he said.
A day and another alarm later, rescue crews could be heard nearby, calling Yuan's and other colleagues' names, and sent there, he later learned, by his company. "We were shouting 'Save me' with all our strength," he said. The two co-workers were quickly freed, but the debris around Yuan made him more difficult to reach.
Rescuers spent another day digging, carefully maneuvering and lifting concrete and other debris to keep the pile from shifting and crushing Yuan. Five hours after the third alarm, he was suddenly lifted up.
Six paramilitary policemen laid him on a stretcher and covered his eyes to protect them from the jolt of daylight. They ran him up a mile and a quarter (2 kilometers) of winding mountain roads broken in some points by car-sized boulders, flung there by landslides triggered by the quake. At a middle school converted into a triage center, he was put in an ambulance and driven to Mianyang City Central Hospital.
"I was dizzy and confused," Yuan said. "I was hallucinating."
Looking back over the ordeal from his hospital bed, Yuan said he thought about television news footage he had seen as a child of modern China's most devastating earthquake -- a 1976 quake in the northeastern city of Tangshan near Beijing that killed at least 240,000 people.
"I've always thought what happened in Tangshan was terrible, but I never realized the extent of the horror until I experienced it myself," he said.
In the first two days after he was rescued, all he drank was water, eating a bowl of porridge only after that.
Now he has new gold-rimmed glasses and lies on a bed under a tent in front of the Mianyang City Hospital. His younger sister uses a fan to wave flies away as his mother dozes on the corner of his bed.
"All I want to do now is sit up," Yuan said with a grimace. "It's so hard just lying here all day doing nothing."
Five million people lost their homes in the quake, said Jiang Li, vice minister of civil affairs.
The government was setting up temporary housing for victims unable to find shelter with relatives, but there was a "desperate need for tents" to accommodate them, she said.
Nearly 280,000 tents have been shipped to the area and 700,000 more ordered, with factories working triple shifts to meet demand.
"Despite generous donations, the disaster is so great that victims still face a challenge in finding living accommodations," Jiang said.
In Washington, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush visited the Chinese Embassy to sign a condolence book for quake victims and said the country was "ready to assist in any manner that China deems helpful."
"We stand with you during this tragic moment as you mourn the loss of so many of your loved ones and search for those still missing," Bush wrote, before pausing for a moment of silence.
China has said it would accept foreign medical teams as the relief efforts shifted from searching for survivors to caring for the injured and homeless.
A Russian medical team with a mobile hospital arrived Tuesday in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. A 37-member medical team sent by the Taiwan Red Cross organization also arrived in the disaster zone.
A 23-member medical team from Japan also departed Tuesday for China, replacing a rescue team in the disaster zone, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
Crews of doctors were also en route from Germany and Italy, Qin said.
At the West China Hospital in Chengdu, staff were trying to find relatives of victims being treated. A relief tent in the courtyard doubled as a bulletin board displaying about 50 snapshots of people who had not been claimed by families, mostly elderly patients or children.
Liu Yuanzhong said his son lost both legs when his office building collapsed in the town of Hanwang. The 38-year-old man, Liu Rui, was a manager at a coal mining company and was attending a weekly meeting about safety issues when the tremor struck, his father said.
"It'll be up to the government to help him, but we don't know how much the government will do," the elder Liu said. "His wife doesn't work and we don't know what she will do."
Nearer the epicenter in the town of An Xian, a crew of volunteers arrived from Tangshan, the Chinese city that suffered the country's worst quake in 1976 that killed at least 240,000 people.
"Now it's time for us to help the others that are suffering," said Song Zhixian, a farmer among a group of 15 older men wearing red hard hats and vests. "It is part of the Chinese virtue and spirit: when one place suffers, then everyone else helps."
More than 30 sources of radiation were buried by debris from the quake, but all except two have been disposed of and the overall situation was safe, a news report said Tuesday. There were no specifics in the Xinhua report, other than saying that "nuclear facilities and radioactive sources for civilian purposes" had been buried.
The Chinese government has previously said all nuclear facilities affected by the earthquake were safe and under control, but did not give any details.
Elsewhere, a panda from the famous Wolong Nature Preserve that had been missing since the quake returned safely, but two were still unaccounted for, Xinhua reported. They were "very likely to be alive," forestry official Xiong Beirong told the agency.
"Both pandas were adults and they are more capable to escape from dangers than younger ones," she said. "We hope the two missing pandas are as lucky as their peers."
The quake killed five staff members at the reserve and destroyed or damaged all of its 32 panda houses. The local government has sent emergency supplies of bamboo, apples and veterinary medicine for the pandas, along with food and tents for staff.
Oil and gas operations in the quake zone are virtually back to normal, state-owned oil and gas giant CNPC said Tuesday.
China's banking regulators ordered banks to ensure adequate loans and other support for companies and individuals in the area.
Flags in the country remained at half-staff and entertainment events canceled on the second day of a three-day national mourning period declared by the Chinese government, an unprecedented gesture normally reserved for dead state leaders. The Olympic torch relay was also suspended.