Heroic rescuers racing against time

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Xie Jiangmin remembers when he held a baby's body after retrieving him hours after a deadly quake that jolted southwest China's Sichuan Province on Saturday.

The one-year-old was pulled out by Xie and his fellow firefighters from a flattened house with no sign of life.

With a head injury, the baby lay silently in his arms, eyes closed and traces of blood coming from his mouth and nose, Xie recalled.

The boy was in Xie's arms for no more than eight seconds before being wheeled away on a stretcher.

"I held him and it was the coldest I have ever felt in my lifetime," Xie said.

Xie had led five firefighters to rescue survivors in the village of Wuxing in Taiping town, Lushan County, the epicenter of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that jolted the area Saturday morning.

Xie and his crew arrived in Wuxing village on 9 a.m. Saturday, about one hour after the quake. Xie said they had just finished an earthquake rescue drill held in neighboring Meishan City and returned to Yan'an the day before it was hit by the quake.

"We had checked our equipment and the next day came to the quake," Xie said, "it's hard to tell what god was thinking."

Xie arrived with the first batch into Longmen township, one of the worst hit areas, but only found flattened properties.

"My grandson and his mother were buried in the house," an elderly woman cried out when they reached Wuxing village.

At the site of the woman's house, where once a duplex brick-constructed house used to be, was rubble and rocks in which her relatives were buried.

"No sound was heard when we arrived," 21-year-old Zhang Junhao said, another firefighter on Xie's team who was helping with rescue efforts for the first time.

Zhang said firefighters and villagers were moving concrete and rubble in a human chain.

An hour later, Xie retrieved the baby boy, dead.

The old woman collapsed at the scene, screaming while neighbors stepped in trying to comfort her.

"She kept talking and nobody knew what she was saying, we had only six rescuers and had to save the baby's mother," Xie said.

The mother was in coma when being pulled out of the debris, according to Xie. Doctors said the mother is likely to recover, which gave the old woman a ray of hope.

Rescuers are racing against time to find as many survivors as possible in Ya'an as the "critical first 72 hours after the disaster" ends in nine hours.

Xie and his fellow firefighters have finished their work in Wuxing village and more rescue operations will be carried out in other villages.

However, the rescue operation is hampered by huge queues of traffic clogging roads into disaster zones.

"I have been busy rescuing, and not had a minute to think about life and death," Xie said, lighting up a cigarette.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, the quake had claimed at least 192 lives and injured more than 10,000. An additional 23 people were missing.

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