The number of dead in China's earthquake climbed past 12,000 on Tuesday with the toll expect to soar further after state media said nearly 19,000 people were buried under rubble in one city alone.
Rain hampered rescue efforts in the mountainous area around the epicentre of Monday's 7.9-magnitude quake that jolted the southwestern province of Sichuan, the country's worst earthquake in three decades.
State media reported scenes of devastation as rescuers gradually filed into villages near the epicentre in Wenchuan, a remote county cut off by landslides about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the provincial capital, Chengdu.
An advance squad of more than 30 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops arrived at Wenchuan's Yingxiu township and rescued 300 injured residents, Xinhua news agency said.
Only 2,000 were found alive in the town of 12,000, according to He Biao, a local official.
"They could hear people under the debris calling for help, but no one could, because there were no professional rescue teams," state television quoted He as saying.
About 60,000 people were unaccounted for in Wenchuan, where 600 armed police were due to arrive before dawn on Wednesday.
"What we most need is medicine. There is no medicine, there are no doctors and after such a long time, no food," He said.
More than 12,000 people died in Sichuan and more than 26,000 were injured, Sichuan vice-governor Chengyun said.
A further 18,645 people were buried under debris in the city of Mianyang, Xinhua said, suggesting the death toll was likely to rise sharply.
Thousands were reported to be buried under factories, schools and other buildings elsewhere. Hundreds more have died in neighbouring provinces.
FEARS OVER RESERVOIRS
Li said several reservoirs upstream of the Min river, a tributary of the Yangtze flowing through the quake-hit region, were "in a very dangerous status and the dams may burst".
Flood relief authorities had ordered officials to "thoroughly inspect and remove hidden dangers of dams", Xinhua said. Landslides had blocked the path of a river in Sichuan's neighbouring province of Gansu.
Officials have warned that more powerful aftershocks could hit the region and mudslides could add to the toll.
A strong aftershock rocked Chengdu on Tuesday, one of 2,354 in the province over the past day, unnerving residents.
More than 50,000 troops joined disaster relief efforts or were advancing to the area. Thousands were ordered to parachute into Wenchuan, where rain and clouds had prevented military helicopters from landing.
Visiting Premier Wen Jiabao ordered troops to clear roads to Wenchuan. "Please speed up the shipping of food. The kids have nothing to eat now," Wen said amid crying children.
In Dujiangyan – about midway between Chengdu and the epicentre – bodies lined streets and residents cradled possessions in front of homes reduced to piles of rubble.
Rescuers worked through the night, pulling bodies from ruined buildings after the earthquake, which rolled from Sichuan across China and was felt as far away as Bangkok and Hanoi.
About 900 teenagers were buried under a collapsed three-storey school building. Frantic relatives tried to push past a line of soldiers, desperate for news of their children.
"We're still pulling out people alive, but many, many have died," said one medical worker.
Eleven tourists suspended in a gondola over a gorge in northern Sichuan's scenic Jiuzhaigou area were brought to safety after being trapped for nearly 24 hours.
A group of 19 British tourists were missing near the epicentre after travelling by coach to Wolong, a large panda reserve. Phone lines to the area were cut.
China said that there had been no reports of foreign casualties by midday local time (0400 GMT).
The quake was the worst to hit China since the 1976 Tangshan tremor in northeastern China where up to 300,000 died.
China's benchmark stock index ended down on Tuesday and trading in the shares of 66 companies was suspended.
Analysts said they did not expect serious economic effects from the disaster but supply shortages could fuel inflation, already at a near 12-year high.
The State Administration of Grain ordered local governments to ensure grain and cooking oil supplies and price stability.
Offers of aid have come from around the world after the disaster, which occurred three months before the Beijing Olympics.
Olympic officials assured foreigners the country was safe. A minute's silence would start each stop of the domestic torch relay and celebrations would be scaled down.
The International Olympic Committee said it would donate $1 million and the United Nations also offered support.