Since the deadly 7.8-magnitude quake struck Sichuan province on Monday, Premier Wen Jiabao has been visiting disaster areas to inspect and oversee rescue operations.
At every stop, the premier's presence and words of encouragement have continued to reassure victims that no effort was being spared to deal with the disaster.
Wen arrived yesterday in Beichuan county, one of the worst-hit areas.
During an inspection of rescue work in Qushan town, 2 km from Beichuan, Wen encountered several soldiers rushing an injured girl to safety.
The 66-year-old premier asked the crowds to make way for the young victim.
"Time is life," he said, urging rescuers to do their utmost to save quake survivors.
Wen also expressed his appreciation to several American volunteers who had joined relief work in Qushan.
"On behalf of the Chinese government, I'd like to express my thanks to the Americans, for your help in the quake-hit regions," he said.
On Tuesday morning, Wen presided over a meeting at the State Council's Anti-Earthquake and Disaster Relief Headquarters and stressed that relief be sent to the quake epicenter of Wenchuan before midnight.
He also visited the people who stayed in the open field amid heavy rain as aftershocks constantly shook buildings in Dujiangyan.
When he heard that water and tents were in short supply and many babies needed milk powder, he gave the assurance that the problems would be solved within 24 hours.
"It is raining and cold. This is a difficult time. But let us stay together. Things will improve, then everyone can go home.
"When buildings crack and collapse, we can build new ones. As long as people are alive, we can make it through the hard times and overcome this natural catastrophe."
At the Xinjian Primary School, where many students were buried, the premier picked up a shoe and a school bag covered in ash. When he heard that rescuers had found two students alive but stuck in the rubble, he risked his own life climbing over the wreckage and hurried to the site.
With tears rolling down, he bent toward the children and called out: "I am grandpa Wen Jiabao. You must hold on, child! You will be saved!"
At Deyang, another seriously hit city, Wen learned that many workers and children were trapped at the State-owned Dongfang electric plant. He immediately ordered the China International Search and Rescue Team to come to the site. The team has helped in relief efforts during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and other disasters.
"Our primary task remains saving lives," Wen stressed.
"The earthquake took place only 24 hours ago, people in the ruins still have hope of surviving.
"We will try our best, do whatever it takes and exert 100 times the efforts to save lives.
"The harder the times, the more important it is for us to stay together ... help each other and succeed in relief work."
On Tuesday afternoon, the premier got off his bus in the rain and visited people taking shelter at the Jiuzhou Stadium in Mianyang. About 1,000 children had been brought to the temporary shelter.
Wen asked quake victim Liu Yixue about her family.
"My books are gone, my home is gone. Everything is gone. I'm an orphan now," the primary school pupil cried.
The girl had not heard from her parents or any other relatives in the quake-devastated area of Chenjiaba in Beichuan county.
Premier Wen patted Liu on the shoulder and held her hand.
"Don't worry. There will be books and there will be school. We will take care of you. Even if you are orphaned, the government won't leave you alone," Wen said.
"Don't cry, you must learn to face reality and overcome the difficulties."
It is an approach reflected in the response of the central government to the disaster.
Media reports have told of worldwide admiration over the authorities' swift handling of rescue operations.
Less than two hours after the quake hit on Monday at 2:28 pm, Premier Wen was on the plane headed for quake-hit areas, presiding over a meeting to deal with the national emergency.
"In the face of this disaster, the most important things are composure, confidence, courage and powerful command," he told the nation on State broadcaster China Central Television.
At about 7:10 pm, Premier Wen landed in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, and immediately headed for Wenchuan. But as the roads to the county lay blocked by landslides, he ordered the headquarters for rescue work to be set up in Dujiangyan, which lay halfway between Chengdu and Wenchuan.
After a quick briefing, the premier, a geologist himself, instructed the army to approach the epicenter from the north and south, repair the roads as soon as possible, obtain a clearer understanding of the situation, try sending relief supplies to quake-hit areas and provide a forecast of possible aftershocks.
At 10 pm, Wen visited the Chinese Medicine Hospital in Dujiangyan. The five-story outpatient building was reduced to rubble. Wen walked close to the ruins and asked the soldiers and doctors about the situation.
"How many patients were in the building? How many survivors have been found? Is there hope?" he asked rescuers. He directed them to search every corner and emphasized that relief work must be conducted in an orderly manner.
"Thank you, Premier," was the spontaneous response of those present.
Without taking a rest, the Premier then drove to nearby Juyuan town. About 300 students lay buried in the debris of a middle school.
As heartbroken parents stood around the recovered bodies of their children, laid on the square facing a leveled school, the premier bowed three times to pay his respects. He stretched out his hands toward the gathering crowd.
"Let us join hands in relief efforts," he said.
"I hurried here as soon as I heard the news. People's lives are invaluable. I am as saddened as everyone else. If there is a glimmer of hope, we will try our utmost to save lives. Even if there is only one person in the ruins, we will salvage him."
"Our premier has been working continuously at the frontline for more than two days. Sadness is written on our premier's face, but there is also courage, confidence and hope," commented Lu Ning, a reporter with the Oriental Morning News who joined relief efforts in Tangshan in 1976, when a 7.8-magnitude quake took the lives of 240,000 people.
"In the face of disasters, the premier's expression shows the confidence of our nation."
Xinhua contributed to the story
Source: China Daily