Page last updated at 13:04 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 14:04 UK

Qinghai quake : 'No time to react'

Rescuers search a collapsed building in Yushu on 14 April 2010
Residents say buildings came down across the quake-hit region

A day after a devastating earthquake struck China's remote Qinghai province, accounts are emerging of the destruction it has caused.

Drolma, who comes from worst-hit Yushu and now lives in the UK, said she had managed to speak to her family by mobile phone.

She told the BBC that she had lost several relatives. "One auntie lost five of them in one family, the other lost three, another lost four and also friends, all dead. It's a disaster."

Her immediate family were safe, she said, but their house was wiped out. One of her brothers was in his garden when the earthquake hit.

Eight people in one of my neighbour's family were all buried - they were all dead when they were found
Lungme, Jiegu resident

"He just realised that his three-year-old daughter was not there. So while the earthquake is shaking, the whole house is collapsing, he went back to get his little child," Drolma said.

"This little three-year-old daughter was just standing in the kitchen next to the stove, because she had no clue about what was going on. So he just grabbed her and just hid in the corner of the room.

"Then suddenly the whole house collapsed on them. And he could hear from the outside the other family members: 'Oh my God, we lost him and the little baby'. They were screaming outside.

"He shouted and shouted 'We're here, we're here'. So they managed to pull out all the brakeage and other stuff. And he managed to get out. Luckily he was OK in the end."

'War zone'

One resident, Lungme, told Xinhua news agency that she and five of her relatives were buried when their home collapsed in Jiegu township, near the epicentre of the quake.

"It was all so sudden. I had no time to react," the agency quoted her as saying. She and four others were dug out but her mother died.

"Eight people in one of my neighbour's family were all buried. They were all dead when they were found," she said.

A woman stands looking at rubble in Yushu on 14 April 2010
Residents said soldiers, monks and ordinary people were digging

Another resident, Yuhu, told the 21st Century Business Herald that everyone was joining in.

"There are dozens of soldiers who are all working hard to rescue people. Monks are working hard too.

"People are trying to dig out family members first - and then help others. Most of the people who are being dug out are dead."

Ren Yu, the manager of Jiegu's Yushu hotel, said that the town "felt like a war zone".

"It's a complete mess. At night, people were crying and shouting. Women were crying for their families," the Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying.

"Some of the people have broken legs or arms, but all they can get now is an injection. They were crying in pain."

'Just horrific'

Arnold King, an American volunteer teaching English in Tibet, travels with his students, yak herdsmen who are always on the move to find pasture. They were in Yushu when the earthquake struck.

People among rubble in Yushu. Photo: Arnold King
Arnold King: I've never seen anything like it

They have been trying to rescue people from the rubble. He sent pictures to the BBC and a description of the devastation.

"The scene is just horrific. So many mud brick houses came down on people," he said.

"I've been trying to look for survivors in the rubble with a Swedish woman, but we are only pulling out dead bodies.

"There are several camps being set up around town. We are doing the best we can, but it's just a total chaos here.

"I've never seen anything like it. When I see my students around town I just hug them. Some of them didn't make it. It's too horrible to even think about it right now."

Standing in tents

Drolma said her brother described a devastating situation in Yushu.

"On one of the three main streets he went down - there are just dead bodies everywhere," she said.

She said that based on what relatives had told her, she believed the death toll would be higher than the figure of 600 currently being reported.

When she spoke to her brother again on Thursday morning, he told her he had slept outdoors.

"My brother didn't have anywhere to stay last night. He spent the night in the mountain, where it's very cold. This morning he tried to get a tent, clothes and food but there are so many people and so few clothes and blankets.

"My uncle is going back to the village to look for food," she said. "He stayed in a tent which was so crammed people were standing and no-one could sleep.

"There were quite a few aftershocks all night. People there sound tired, they don't have energy and they are desperate for food."

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