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Tuesday, May 20, 2008 - Page updated at 10:20 AM

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2 men pulled from rubble a week after China quake

Associated Press Writer

CHENGDU, China —

Rescuers pulled a 31-year-old man to safety Tuesday after he was trapped for more than a week in a flattened power plant near the epicenter of last week's earthquake in central China, while the region remained jittery over warnings of aftershocks.

Ma Yuanjiang was saved from the debris of the Yingxiu Bay Hydropower Plant, where he worked as a director, after a 30-hour rescue effort, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Ma was able to speak after the rescue and began to eat small amounts of food, his colleague Wu Geng told Xinhua, but his exact condition was unknown.

It was the second case of someone being found alive a week after the May 12 earthquake struck Sichuan province. A miner, Peng Guohua, was in stable condition Tuesday after being trapped for 170 hours before his rescue Monday, Xinhua said.

Despite the tales of survival, rescue workers resumed the increasingly grim task of searching for bodies on the second day of a three-day national mourning period declared by the Chinese government, an unprecedented gesture to honor the dead whose numbers were expected to exceed 50,000.

Such official mourning periods have previously only been ordered for late national leaders.

Thousands of quake survivors awoke Tuesday after spending a night sleeping in cars and in the open, frightened by government warnings of a potential strong aftershock.

In shattered Sichuan, quake-weary residents carried pillows, blankets and chairs from homes into the open or slept in cars after a statement from the National Seismology Bureau was read on television warning that there was a "rather great" chance of an aftershock measuring magnitude 6 to 7. Such jolts could cause major damage.

People in the provincial capital of Chengdu got in their cars and drove east - toward plains and away from the quake zone to the northwest. At intersections outside the city, clusters of people slept on bedrolls. Cars were parked along a service road to a highway, their drivers sleeping on the sidewalk.

In Mianyang, closer to the quake zone, a hospital moved patients into the square outside the rail station, setting up beds, medicine trays and tents.

The alarm compounded uneasiness in the region, which has been rumbled by dozens of aftershocks since the initial 7.9 magnitude quake, including one on Monday night measured at magnitude 5.2 by the U.S. Geological Survey. No damage or injuries were reported.

It came a few hours after China's more than 1 billion people paused for three minutes of mourning - an observance that previously only honored the death of a top Chinese leader.

At 2:28 p.m., the moment the quake hit, wailing air-raid sirens and the blare of horns from cars, ships and trains signaled the start of the commemoration.

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From the broad boulevards of Beijing to the shaken streets of Sichuan province, everyone stood still. Traffic halted in cities, soldiers stood at attention, and people bowed their heads in respect for the dead.

President Hu Jintao led senior government figures in a solemn ceremony televised nationally. Rescuers also briefly halted work in the disaster zone, where hope of finding more survivors was all but gone.

The Olympic torch relay, a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to the Beijing Games, was suspended.

The occasion demonstrated the profound impact of the quake.

China's Cabinet said the confirmed death toll rose to 34,073, although it is expected to climb. Another 5,260 remained buried in Sichuan, the provincial government said. Almost 250,000 are injured.

The three-minute commemoration - part of an official three days of mourning - gave the government a chance to recognize and channel the grief of millions who have watched the disaster play out in unusually free coverage by state media.

But there were already signs that the unity would be shortlived.

In Xiushui, one of scores of mountain villages in Sichuan province that were cut off for days in the days immediately after the quake, residents were grateful they now had water, food and other supplies. But they complained the response was slow and blamed local officials whom they described as corrupt and indifferent - a common complaint in rural China that has fueled sporadic protests in the past decade.

"During the first three days after the quake, the local government gave us nothing. No water or food," said Yu Jun, a 44-year-old farmer living in a roadside tent. "In the first few days, we had to get our cooking water from an irrigation ditch. You could see little bugs wiggling around in the water. You would get sick if you drank it."

There were other signs of edginess.

In a gymnasium in Mianyang, east of Xiushui, refugees panicked Sunday when health workers arrived wearing masks, setting off fears of an epidemic. Police were sent in to keep tensions from boiling over.

And in Tiananmen Square, the focus of pro-democracy rallies in 1989 that were crushed by the military, a mourning ceremony erupted into a nationalistic rally as about 1,000 people punched the air with their fists and shouted: "Long live China!" The crowd dispersed after about one hour when police told them to move on.

In a sign the government is sensitive to public perceptions of its response to the disaster, the ruling Communist Party's discipline committee said it had reprimanded three local officials in the quake zone for dereliction of duty, Xinhua said.

The party had instructed its officials to stand "at the front line" of the disaster and these three had failed to do so, Xinhua said.

The state-run China Daily also warned Tuesday that people should guard against Internet fraud while donating to quake victims. Two people were arrested in Guangdong province in southern China for setting up a fake donation Web site.

Reflecting the shift away from rescue work to caring for survivors, in Tokyo Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said a 23-member medical team will leave for China on Tuesday. Japan already has a rescue team working in the northern part of Sichuan.

Signaling it wants help to deal with millions of homeless and injured survivors, China said it would accept foreign medical teams and made an international appeal for tents to provide shelter for the coming rainy season.

More than 200 relief workers were buried in the past three days by mudslides while working to repair roads in Sichuan, Xinhua reported. An official confirmed there had been mudslides causing some deaths but said casualties were still being counted.

For some, there was no solace in Monday's ceremonies.

"I can't feel anything. I have no words," said Hu Yongcui, who did not pause in her search for her missing 17-year-old daughter. "I just want to go home. I just want to find my daughter."

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Associated Press writers Audra Ang in Beichuan, and Cara Anna, Anita Chang and Henry Sanderson in Beijing contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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