LUDIAN, Yunnan, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- Aftershocks, landslides and heavy rains have failed to stop people rushing back to what remains of their homes in southwest China's Yunnan Province, in the aftermath of Sunday's quake.
The trip from Ludian County to the epicenter at Longtoushan Township which once took 40 minutes now takes several hours. Landslides block the way.
Long Shenfen, 36, has been along this familiar hilly road numerous times, but never so slowly or painfully. She carries a bamboo pole over her shoulder with a yellow woven bag on each end. She is thin and weak and her load leaves her drenched with sweat.
"The bags contain my son's clothes," she said. "He is dead."
When the quake struck at 4:30 p.m., her son and parents-in-law were having a meal in a mudbrick house in Cuiping Village, worst hit by the quake, the strongest in the region for 14 years.
Over 2,000 kilometers away in east China's Jiangsu Province, Long and her husband were working in a factory when they heard the news.
"The house collapsed. My son was buried under it and died. He was just 12 years old."
The couple immediately bought air tickets from Nanjing to Kunming, Yunnan's capital, and hired motorbikes to go home. But traffic control and landslides meant they had to walk, hoping for one last look at their son.
Her parents-in-law are injured and there is no electricity at home. There are many candles in the bags. Her husband, invalided in a car accident, follows slowly. Their seven-year-old daughter urges her to go faster.
"We may not arrive at home even tonight," her husband sighs.
The quake has left 410 people dead, 2,373 injured and necessitated the emergency evacuation of almost quarter of a million. Nearly 80,000 houses have collapsed.
In poverty-stricken Ludian County, many former residents like Long have left for jobs in bigger cities. According to the website of the county government, the rural per capita net income was only 2,572 yuan (about 415 U.S. dollars) in 2010. Among its 400,000 residents, nearly one in four are in other places as migrant workers. Among them are the 22-year-old Deng Qishu and her husband Ai Fuchao.
They took a plane from Shanghai to Kunming immediately after the quake, jumped on a coach running to Ludian County overnight, rode a motorbike, and walked over ten kilometers from the county to Longtoushan Township. The 48-hour journey paid off and the couple are now reunited with their two-year-old daughter and other relatives. The couple went to work in Shanghai three years ago, and have returned home only once since.
"Our houses all collapsed. My father brought my little girl to town and went back to Sanbanqiao Village, our hometown, where my mother is buried under the ruins," Deng said. They have decided to press on and look for their parents.
Yunnan public security department has announced that the road linking Ludian County with the epicenter was cleared by about 5 p.m. on Tuesday, but traffic controls are in place, prioritizing ambulances and vehicles carrying relief goods.
What people need most is food, drinking water, medicine and tents. The home comers bring bags of bread, milk and instant noodles with them.
In Cuiping Village, what they have now can only support 300 people for three or four days. Li Guofa, 64, cooks for others. It is simple -- pickled cabbage soup, pumpkin soup and porridge -- but it is valuable since most food and water are buried in collapsed buildings.
"Saving people under the ruins is the top priority of the government. We are alive and must save ourselves," Li said. Li also provides food to rescuers and exhausted home comers. He even gave away his flashlight to one of them.
Thousands of police, firefighters and soldiers have been mobilized to save more lives within the "golden time": the 72nd hour since the quake will fall on Wednesday afternoon, the end of the period considered the best opportunity for saving lives.
The hometown of Wang Tiangui, an armed police officer, was affected by the tremor, but he left home five years ago and is hard at rescue work in other places. "I've called. Our houses collapsed, but my family are fine," he said. "I can't go home. I must obey orders."
Huge rocks and clods of earth roll down from roadside mountains, but however dangerous it is, rescuers and home comers do not give up. There is hope ahead.