China quake survivors rescued as rain threatens millions

Chinese medical personnel carry an earthquake survivor arriving at the railway station in Beijing. (AFP)

The rescue of 40 half-starved people from a remote village 16 days after China's earthquake provided a rare piece of good news on Thursday as rain threatened more misery for millions of survivors.

A military helicopter plucked the villagers from their quake-shattered mountain homes on Wednesday after the group survived on little more than rice and wild herbs, state press reported.

Their rescue was the latest in a string of extraordinary survival stories that have emerged from the horror of the May 12 quake in Sichuan province, which killed over 68,000 people and displaced more than 15 million others.

But the enormous scope of dealing with the its aftermath remained the main focus on Thursday, as the danger of potentially devastating floods rose again with steady rain falling across the quake zone.

The most pressing priority is the draining of a so-called "quake lake", a massive body of water sitting above millions of people that was formed after the huge tremor triggered landslides and blocked a river.

Officials have warned that rainfall would further swell the lake at Tangjiashan and, if it burst, flash floods would sweep across large tracts of Sichuan, bringing with it torrents of rubble from the quake.

Rescue workers have already evacuated 158,000 people in the most imminent danger from any breach of the lake at Tangjiashan.

As earth-movers continued the delicate task of clearing a channel for a controlled release of the water, officials forged ahead with an all-out effort to prepare areas further downstream for a massive evacuation.

In the hard-hit city of Mianyang, authorities have put residents through repeated evacuation drills.

"The efforts are aimed at getting all 1.3 million residents on the move within four hours in case the quake lake's bank fully opens," said the city's Communist Party chief, Tan Li.

The 40 survivors rescued on Wednesday came from Yangjiakou village, which was about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the nearest town.

The group was prevented from escaping due to landslides triggered by the quake, the West China Metropolitan Daily said.

The survivors, who included local villagers and a group of mining company workers, were flown to a nearby temporary camp for earthquake survivors, the paper reported.

Meanwhile, China continued a mammoth effort to feed, house and meet the medical needs of the millions of other survivors.

Foreign assistance has provided support to the effort, the latest being 153 giant tents donated by the US Defense Logistics Agency, which arrived in Sichuan's capital Chengdu on Wednesday.

However, China has repeatedly said it needs millions of tents to shelter quake victims and minimise the risk of serious disease outbreaks as the warm, rainy, summer months approach.

The foreign help has been more than matched by an unprecedented outpouring of domestic donations of money and supplies.

From home and abroad, about 35 billion yuan ($5bn) has been donated.

But worryingly in a country well known for graft at all levels of society, numerous reports have already emerged of quake aid being abused or diverted by corrupt officials.

In an acknowledgement of the problem, the ruling Communist Party has set up a special body to oversee the proper use of such aid and vowed "quick, strict and harsh penalties" for abuses.