Girl to lose legs to free her from quake rubble

A rescuer comforts Yang Liu, centre, whose legs were trapped under concrete, as a dead body, foreground right, is seen next to her in a collapsed school in Sichuan province. (REUTERS)

Chinese teenager Yang Liu lay alive but buried under the rubble of her school on Wednesday, knowing that the only way she will survive is if she loses her legs.

Yang has been fed, given water and a white helmet as workers remove ruins brick by brick from around her and a crane pulled away slabs of concrete – the remains of the school that parents said had around 800 students before Monday's quake hit.

Rescuers took a photojournalist to where Yang was trapped, before rushing his photos, along with Yang's mother, to the local hospital, where surgeons studied them in preparation.

She could be saved, but she would lose her legs.

"They are preparing to do surgery now, but the level of difficulty is very high," said one rescue worker.

Rescuers had deemed it too dangerous to move the concrete to free her legs.

"They decided that they can't move any of the rubble from on top of her, because it might bring more down on her," said Wang Jue, a Chinese journalist.

"So to save her life, they'll cut off her legs. She's calm and stable," he said.

Parents crowding outside the gate of the Dongqi Middle School were desperate for news of their own children, hoping they too might still be found alive.

Rumours rippled through the crowd that the voices of as many as four or five could be heard calling out from below the rubble of the four-storey school.

But the news was more bad than good, as rescuers pulled out the body of another boy, still gripping a pen.

The neighbourhood was nearly deserted, but for a crowd of 100 or more relatives gathered at the school's entrances, many of them crying and wailing, and all of them exhausted.

Across the way, Gao Weihua stood in front of the wreckage of her home, as a team of about 30 rescuers approached on foot, carrying shovels, saws and other tools.

One yelled, "Are there people in these buildings?" and Gao cried out, "Yes, my mother." She could still hear the voice of the 70-year-old woman inside.

Nearby the school, the leader of a rescue crew preparing to dig into yet another ruined building gave his team a pep talk.

"In my whole life, I've never done anything like this, I've never seen anything like this, but we must be soldiers now," said the leader, Yang Xin.

"We must fully do our duties," he said. "You are my flesh and blood, and the people buried in here are our flesh and blood."