CHENGDU, China - A government warning of a major aftershock sent thousands of panicked survivors running into the darkened streets last night after an unprecedented display of mourning for more than 34,000 people killed in a May 12 earthquake.
In shattered Sichuan province, 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 of 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, rumbled by dozens of aftershocks since the quake, including one last 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 one billion people paused for three minutes of mourning - an observance used previously only to honor the deaths of top Chinese leaders.
At 2:28 p.m., marking the moment the quake hit, wailing sirens and the blare of horns from cars, ships and trains signaled the start of the commemoration. From the boulevards of Beijing to the shaken streets of Sichuan province, everyone stood still.
President Hu Jintao led senior government figures in a solemn ceremony televised nationally. Rescuers briefly halted work in the disaster zone. The Olympic torch relay, a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to the Beijing Games, was suspended.
The occasion demonstrated the quake's profound impact.
China's cabinet said the confirmed death toll rose to 34,073, though it is expected to climb. An additional 5,260 people remained buried in Sichuan, the provincial government said. Almost 250,000 were injured.
Yin Pu, a Beijing psychologist, said the depth of feeling that people expressed yesterday was a surprise. "We could not have imagined that it would be so powerful," said Yin, who is recruiting volunteer counselors to send to the quake zone.
But there were signs the unity would be short-lived.
In Xiushui, one of scores of mountain villages in Sichuan province cut off for days after the quake, residents were grateful they now had water and food. But they complained that the response was slow and blamed local officials.
The Communist Party's discipline committee said it had reprimanded three local officials in the quake zone for dereliction of duty, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Teams of rescuers still searched debris, but successes were few. Two women were rescued yesterday from a collapsed building, Xinhua reported.
More than 200 relief workers were buried in the last three days by mudslides in Sichuan, Xinhua reported. An official confirmed there had been mudslides causing some deaths.
China is asking
international donors for tents to house quake survivors as officials said they were drawing up plans to feed
as many as 10 million people
for three months.
now is critical,"
said Yin Yin Nwe, China's UNICEF representative. "We
need to move as fast as possible, with no delays, to speed life-saving medicines, vaccinations, water-purification tablets, oral-rehydration salts, obstetrics and surgical kits,
water containers and the like."
Bryan Whitman said the U.S. military flew two relief flights into China over the weekend and yesterday, taking food, water, blankets, electrical generators, tools and lanterns to Chengdu.