Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 12:43 UK

Town mourns as search goes on

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beichuan

Earthquake victims lie in body bags in Beichuan on 18 May
The quake claimed more than 30,000 lives in the region

One week after the earthquake in China that killed thousands of people, the town of Beichuan held a series of improvised memorial services.

There are no fresh flowers for sale in this earthquake zone, so people used whatever they could lay their hands on to make wreaths.

White toilet paper, bandages and face masks were scrunched up to look like flowers.

Tree branches, wire cable and pieces of metal held the wreaths together.

As the time neared 1428 (0628 GMT) - the exact time the earthquake struck last week - some rescuers, soldiers and medical workers stopped what they were doing and formed neat rows.

They took off their protective helmets and bowed their heads as the moment approached.

When the time arrived, the horns of cars, buses and rescue vehicles sounded, creating a wall of sound.

Everyone stood in silence. Many had tears in their eyes.

Then it was over, and everyone went back to their rescue work.

'Too much to bear'

As she walked away, one nurse said:

"I feel very sad because I have seen so many people that have passed away. I can't think of anything else to say."

But she had to put her emotions to one side and get on with her job.

A few moments after the ceremony, she was making sure an ambulance was in position to take away a possible survivor for treatment.

Rescuer Wang Chuan, whose team has been in Beichuan for a week, was also moved by the ceremony.

"My heart is very heavy," he said. "So many people died. It's too much to bear."

He promised to keep looking for survivors, words echoed by Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who made a surprise visit to Beichuan.

Desperate search

The top Chinese official arrived in what remains of the town just before the memorial services began.

He spent a few minutes talking to rescuers and medical staff, and taking in the devastation around him.

"When the mourning ceremonies begin, everyone will have to join in," he said.

But Mr Li excluded rescuers still trying to pull out survivors. He told them they would "not be able to stop for one moment".

It was something they did not really have to be told.

Just down the road from where the vice-premier was speaking, dozens of them were working on what remains of a six-storey apartment block.

Earlier this morning, they thought they had detected signs of life and were desperately pulling away at the rubble. They did not stop work as the clock approached 1430.

Across Beichuan, rescuers have not given up hope.

One week on, the chances of finding people still alive are slim, but deciding when to stop looking will be a difficult decision to make.

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