|Villgers transfer an injured person in Longjing Village of Longtoushan Town in Ludian County, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Aug. 6, 2014. Death toll from a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that hit Yunnan on Sunday rose to 589. (Xinhua/Xue Yubin)
BEIJING, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- Three days after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake rattled Ludian County in southwestern China's Yunnan Province, relief materials are pouring into the quake area and rescuers are searching for the living as the "golden 72 hours" for survival tick away.
At least 589 people were killed in the strongest quake in the region in 14 years, while 2,833 more were injured, according to the latest figures.
Though many Chinese are still struggling to shake off the memories of the 2008 quake in Sichuan, past experience with disaster relief proved crucial this time as the country's quick and efficient emergency response won praise from the public.
Minutes after Sunday's earthquake struck, a 115-strong emergency rescue team from the People's Liberation Army's Chengdu Military Area Command was already en route to the epicenter in Longtoushan Township.
Another 1,100 troops carrying engineering equipment left about the same time, as did three PLA medical units of 600 people with mobile hospital equipment.
An hour after the quake, tents, quilts, folding beds and cotton-padded clothes were pouring into the once picturesque region that has been reduced to piles of debris.
By Tuesday, the number of military rescuers had increased to nearly 10,000, with soldiers from across the country joining the ranks. Six military helicopters and two cargo planes are helping with the rescue.
Chinese leaders, meanwhile, called for "all-out efforts" to save lives.
The disaster is one of the worst President Xi Jinping has faced since he took the helm of the Communist Party of China in 2012.
In his instructions issued on Sunday, Xi ordered authorities to give top priority to saving people's lives, minimize casualties, and guarantee a proper settlement for quake victims.
He called for all-out efforts in relief operations and strengthening aftershock monitoring to prevent secondary disasters.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang flew to Yunnan early Monday morning, walking over five kilometers on bumpy roads to reach Longquan Village because the earthquake had shut down roads to the quake's epicenter.
"Saving one more person means saving the happiness of a whole family," Li told rescuers. "Saving lives is the top priority. Don't stop. Spare no effort!"
Earlier reports said rescuers from the military alone had saved more than 200 people from the rubble by Tuesday morning and transferred 500 injured people to nearby hospitals. They have helped resettle more than 10,000 residents so far.
"One can't help but notice an obvious improvement in China's governance capabilities if we compare disaster relief efforts this time in Ludian with previous experiences," said Yan Jinrong, professor with the School of Government at Peking University.
The China Earthquake Administration and the National Committee for Disaster Reduction issued the highest-level national disaster relief response shortly after Sunday's earthquake struck.
Some 10,000 troops and armed police officers are fanning out to the worst-hit counties and villages as they race to save lives. Electricity supply has resumed for three quarters of the 38,000-plus households in Zhaotong affected by power outages, and communications have mostly been restored.
"This not only showed the preparedness of the government's disaster emergency response efforts, but also suggests an elevation in our governance and that we have learned lessons the hard way," Yan said.
His words were echoed by Chu Songyan, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, who added that China's timely allocation of resources for disaster relief also reflects the philosophy of the new Chinese leadership, which puts people at the center of governance.
But the reality has been cruel. Rescue operations, hampered by downpours and frequent traffic disruptions, are facing acute time pressures as the likelihood of survivors declines after 72 hours.
Risks also loom over a growing barrier lake that has led to the evacuation of 4,200 residents living on the lower reaches of the Niulan River, located near the junction of Ludian and Qiaojia.
On Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, netizens have poured out grief and sympathy.
"Hold on, Yunnan, I'm saying my prayers for you," one wrote. Another read: "Seeing the photos on the Internet breaks my heart. May all of us cherish our loved ones."
"Nobody has an appetite for disasters, even though we sometimes say calamities help make a nation stronger. But when they do occur, we surely hope that saying holds true," said Yan.