The bodies of the young teenagers were brought out of the wreckage on doors scavenged from what remained of their school.
Taken to the edge of the schoolyard, turned muddy after overnight rains, the earthquake victims were placed under a tarp canopy and wrapped in sheets and blankets. Some of the linens were splattered with blood.
A few family members lit incense and candles, while others set off fireworks to ward off evil spirits. Most, though, appeared numb with shock and sat quietly next to dozens of bodies.
So far rescuers have recovered more than 60 bodies from Juyuan Middle School, which collapsed in the 7.9-magnitude earthquake on Monday. But there was little word on the rest of the 900 teenagers who were believed to be trapped under their collapsed school building.
The 8th and 9th graders were apparently in class when the quake struck in mid afternoon.
Some students managed to escape, while at least one was pulled out of the wreckage alive yesterday morning. The young teenage girl was placed on a stretcher and rushed into an ambulance.
Hundreds of relatives were frantic after a night of waiting in the rain, shaking and wailing as they demanded information.
“You tell us to wait, we can’t wait anymore. We must have some information,” a woman pleaded with soldiers yesterday at the edge of the school in this hard-hit town.
The troops were lined two deep, keeping the emotional family members away from the building.
“Give us information, tell us what’s happening,” the crowd shouted at the soldiers, surging forward every now and then before being pushed back.
Juyuan Middle School was one of several schools that collapsed because of the quake. At least 1,000 students and teachers were dead or missing after another school collapsed in Mianyang city, about 160km north-east of the epicentre, Xinhua reported.
Other schools closer to the epicentre also toppled, although specifics were not available because the area was generally inaccessible.
The concrete and brick four-story school building in Juyuan was mostly levelled in the quake, but a stairwell lined with ceramic tiles remained intact, rising straight out of the rubble surrounding it. On a remaining wall, a blackboard had chalk writing on it.
Three enormous cranes lifted car-sized slabs of concrete off the pile of rubble. A rescue team with pickaxes, shovels and electric saws worked by hand.
A unit from China’s specialised earthquake rescue unit was also at the scene. Dressed in orange jumpsuits with “China” printed on the back, the men had equipment designed to detect sounds of survivors.
Families in the area around Juyuan, 100km from the quake’s epicenter, slept outside. They huddled under makeshift tents constructed of tarps, using candles for light.
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