Chinese work crews continued to find survivors buried in massive mounds of rubble that once were firm buildings, Friday. Some of the survivors of China's devastating 7.9 quake had been buried for as long as four days.
Adding to rescuer's frustrations, a strong aftershock triggered landslides near the epicenter of the massive temblor that has already claimed thousands of lives.
International crews were allowed to enter the quake zone to assist with rescue and recovery operations, the first time outside help has ever been allowed in.
Teams from Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea have joined the operations, Xinhua News reported. It marks the first time that China has ever accepted outside professionals for domestic disaster relief, Foreign Ministry counselor Li Wenliang told Xinhua.
Government helicopters dropped flyers telling people to "unite together" and provided survival information. Officials have said the quake's final toll could reach 50,000.
Survivors Still Being Found
On Friday, work crews pulled a nurse to safety, a full 24 hours after the critical three-day window for finding survivors. She had been trapped for 96 hours in the debris of a clinic in Beichuan county.
Another group of volunteers also spent four hours using their hands and shovels to rescue a middle-aged woman. She was pulled from from the rubble of what had once been an apartment building. Her call for help had caught the attention of the volunteers,
"She had the will to live," said Xu Tao, one of the volunteers. "I'm just exhausted."
Ten people were reported rescued from their quake tombs on Friday.
The 5.5 aftershock rattled parts of central Sichuan province Friday afternoon, the official Xinhua News Agency said, There were no reports of casualties.
Meanwhile, education and housing officials responded to online questions from angry Chinese citizens over the number of children who died in the quake. The official death toll had risen to about 22,069 on Friday. Another 14,000 are said to still were buried in Sichuan.
The government said it would investigate why so many school buildings collapsed in the quake. The tremor destroyed almost 7,000 classrooms. Officials said anyone responsible for shoddy construction would be severely punished.
President Hu Jintao visited the disaster zone for the first time Friday, rallying some of the 130,000 soldiers and police involved in the massive relief operation.
"The challenge is still severe, the task is still arduous and the time is pressing," Hu said. "Quake relief work has entered into the most crucial phase. We must make every effort, race against time and overcome all difficulties to achieve the final victory of the relief efforts."
AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm, estimated losses to both insured and uninsured property would likely exceed $20 billion.
Source: The Associated Press