Chinese President Hu Jintao cradled an injured Tibetan girl as she wept on Sunday and promised speedy aid for the scores left homeless when a massive earthquake struck this remote, mountainous region, killing more than 1,700 people.
Mr. Hu cut short an official trip to South America to deal with the disaster in far west China’s Qinghai province.
The president’s trip included visits with displaced families living in tents and rescue teams as they dug through debris. He also sat with injured survivors in a field hospital and promised the Communist Party and the government was doing everything they could to help the quake victims. Most of the affected were Tibetan.
“I guarantee the party and the government will help you build a new home and make sure your children can return to school as soon as possible,” Mr. Hu told a family living in a tent.
Footage on China Central Television also showed Mr. Hu grasping the hand of a monk as he pledged that every effort would be made to save anyone still trapped under the rubble. “As long as there is a ray of hope we will try 100 times harder to save lives,” he said.
Earlier Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that a 68-year-old man was pulled from the rubble four days after the quake hit Wednesday morning. It said the man, Dawa, only suffered broken ribs and had been trapped in a space that allowed him to move around.
At a field hospital set up on the grounds of a sports stadium, Mr. Hu sat on the bed of a Tibetan middle school student identified by China Central Television as Zhuoma, and held her as she wept. Her right arm was bandaged and supported by a sling.
“Rest assured, you will have a full recovery,” he told her. “Don’t worry. I know you are a good girl. Be strong. You will have a bright future. Grandpa will be thinking of you.”
The death toll rose on Sunday by a few hundred to 1,706 with 256 still missing, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the rescue headquarters in Jiegu. It said 12,128 were injured, including 1,424 in serious condition.
Most of the survivors who were not evacuated to hospitals elsewhere are now living in tents and have basic food and clean water, Zou Ming, head of disaster relief at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told a news conference in Beijing.
Still, Mr. Zou said, getting aid to the region, which is a 12-hour drive from the provincial capital, remains a problem.
Hundreds of the dead have been cremated. In a hillside ceremony on Saturday, Buddhist monks in face masks set ablaze piles of blanket-wrapped bodies in a mass cremation, as necessity forced them to break with the local tradition of “sky burials” — leaving corpses on a platform to be devoured by vultures.
Rescue workers were still searching for survivors and bodies in schools. The quake destroyed more than a third of the school buildings in Jiegu and rendered the rest dangerous, according to the Qinghai provincial government.