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Page last updated at 19:17 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 20:17 UK

Time frozen at quake ghost town

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Hanwang, China

Rescue workers with a body bag outside a school in Hanwang 15 May
Hundreds of children were buried when their schools collapsed in the quake

Dead bodies lie waiting to be collected on the streets in the town of Hanwang, close to the epicentre of the massive earthquake that struck China's Sichuan province.

The town, which sits at the bottom of high mountains, has been completely destroyed.

The quake sent its homes, shops, and public buildings tumbling into the street. Those that are still standing look damaged beyond repair.

The hands on the town's clock are stuck at 1428 - a reminder of the exact time the earthquake struck.

Rescuers are still searching the rubble - but only bodies are being pulled out now.

Poignant reminders

A major rescue effort is taking place at what remains of Dongqi Middle School, which left hundreds of pupils trapped when it collapsed.

Anxious parents sit quietly on piles of rubble overlooking the site, watching the rescue effort and hoping for signs of survivors.

They have been standing vigil since the earthquake struck on Monday, but most know there is now little chance of finding their children alive.

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One woman sits sobbing on the ground next to her husband. The couple's son is still somewhere under the fallen down school.

"He's only 18. He told us he could look after himself, but he couldn't," she said.

The couple had been working in the southern boom city of Guangzhou when the earthquake struck.

They had left their hometown to earn enough money to send their son to school.

There were many poignant images that reminded onlookers that this, just a few short days ago, had been a school.

High up on one wall, on what must have been the third floor, there was a blackboard and a ledge, with two umbrellas still hanging from it.

Children's textbooks sat on top of the rubble.

Body bags in Hanwang 15 May 2008
Hope for survivors is fading days after the mammoth quake

The sports ground of a nearby primary school is being used to lay out those who have been pulled out of the Dongqi ruins.

Bodies wrapped in yellow sheets are laid on a running track. People inspect them, looking for missing friends and relatives.

One woman collapses in tears on the pavement opposite - she has just identified the body of her son.

There were similar stories all across this small town, which was full of soldiers, medical workers and volunteers.

Labourer Tan Kelun was standing outside his house watching rescuers search for his wife, who he thought was underneath the rubble.

A tearful Mr Tan said his wife had returned home at lunchtime on the day of the earthquake as usual, and had not been seen since.

Normal life has temporarily come to an end in Hanwang, which looks as though it was hit by the full force of the earthquake.

Soldiers distributed clean water to people carrying buckets and medical workers sprayed disinfectant throughout the town.

Smashed apartment blocks in Hanwang 15 May 2008
As well as infrastructure, people's lives have been wrecked

Overhead, there was the constant hum of helicopters, which appeared to be delivering aid to communities in more mountainous districts.

Despite the devastation, a van with a loud speaker on top toured the streets of Hanwang telling the victims that the government would help them overcome this disaster.

But there are many shattered lives and broken down buildings to repair before that promise is fulfilled.

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