China Says Quake Toll Could Reach 50,000

China has literally thrown an army of rescuers into the earthquake-ravaged Sichuan province, but has been unable to stop the death toll from marching higher.

In the last 24 hours China raised the death toll from 15,000, to 20,000, and warned today that the body count could go as high as 50,000 as relief workers clawed their way through tons of tumbled brick and slabs of cement.

But more than 72 hours after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit, cries for help from under the rubble that had become increasingly weak have now stopped. Workers appear to have shifted their focus from rescuing survivors to searching for corpses.

The government has said that as many as 12,300 people could be entombed beneath collapsed buildings.


To cope with the mounting number of bodies, China has begun digging mass graves and pouring lime over each layer of corpses.

An occasional miracle rescue still occurs, keeping hope alive. In Dujiangyan, a woman was pulled from a collapsed building, having survived three days pinned in the rubble.

She was shown on China TV covered in dust and peering out through a small opening and waving shortly before her rescue.

The country has mobilized more than 130,000 soldiers and sent them into Sichuan to help, put more than 100 helicopters into the air to bring aid to remote villages, and when soldiers can't drive or march to the rescue, they have parachuted in with supplies.

In Chengdu, near the epicenter of the massive quake, the clock is stopped at the time the temblor struck, and the scene has changed little since then. The wounded are still rushed through the streets in ambulances or on hand-carried stretchers. Overwhelmed doctors and nurses are still treating the injured on the streets.

At one school, rescue workers stopped digging this morning after excavating the bodies of 80 crushed students.

A stunned 12-year-old boy who escaped from the school's second-floor classroom with cuts and bruises was drawn to the wreckage this morning to look for friends who didn't make it out. He stared in disbelief that so many of his schoolmates are dead.

Jao Ping and his 6-year-old son returned to the school as well because they had no place to go and Jao's wife, who was a teacher at the school, died in the building.

Jao, unable to hold back tears, sobbed as he told ABC News that she was killed while helping students get out.

His son leaves food out at night for his mother in case she comes home.

Those who aren't grieving or digging are standing in line. Huge lines for all sorts of necessities from water to food snake throughout the city. A line for gasoline stretched several miles.

A government official, when asked what did China need most, replied, "Everything. People need everything."

In an unusual appeal for China, it broadcasted a plea for donations of food, clothing, even digging tools and boats.

The scenes of devastation have galvanized Chinese citizens who are giving blood, donating money and raising money on the Internet and with text messaging.

The country's Olympic gymnastic team has donated money along with the national table tennis team.

NBA star Yao Ming, China's most famous athlete, was planning to donate $285,000 to the relief effort, agent Erik Zhang said.

"My thoughts are with everyone back in my home country of China during this very dark and emotional time," Yao said in a statement from Houston, where he is recovering from a broken left foot. He hopes to compete in the Beijing Olympics in August.

Dujiangyan city was clogged with buses and trucks decked out with banners from companies saying they were offering aid to the disaster area. One tour bus was stuffed full of water bottles, cartons of biscuits and instant noodles.

Public donations so far have totaled $186 million in cash and goods, China's news agency Xinhua said.

Jo Ling Kent and the Associated Press contributed to this report.