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Young quake survivor endures by sleeping in

by Anita Chang
| April 18, 2010 9:00 PM

JIEGU, China - Her roommates used to call her a "lazy pig" for trying to sleep in before class. But it was Song Yuhuan's slowness to get out of bed that saved her life - the girls who rushed from their dorm were crushed by the walls collapsing in an earthquake that leveled their town and left 1,484 dead.

Song was trapped briefly by Wednesday morning's quake, a leg and arm pinned under a wall of the third-floor room. Instead of panicking, she felt a steely calm as the others around her screamed.

"Stop screaming," she told them, "and I'll get out first and then I'll help you." An aftershock a few minutes later allowed her to slip free.

But three of her seven roommates died, and a fourth was still missing. Officials say more than 40 of her classmates at the Minorities Vocational School died, and at least 103 students in this remote Tibetan corner of western China were killed.

Moved by the disaster, the exiled Dalai Lama said Saturday he'd like to visit the site, though he has never returned to China since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

"To fulfill the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort," the Tibetan spiritual leader said. There was no immediate comment from China's government.

On Saturday, monks in face masks set ablaze piles of blanket-wrapped bodies in a mass cremation, as necessity forced them to break with the tradition of leaving their dead out for vultures.

Hundreds of villagers sat watching on the hillside, while monks chanted and prayed for the dead.

Life also showed the first small signs of returning to normal, with residents crowding to buy food from makeshift sidewalk stores.

The ruddy-cheeked, 18-year-old Song continued to stand and watch as a rescue squad dug at the mangled pile of concrete that used to be her dorm. She was still wearing the tracksuit and purple sweat shirt with the word "Pittsburgh" she had on when the quake hit, and a pair of mismatched shoes.

Among the dead was her best friend, who had just put a drink for Song on their windowsill before running out when the shaking started and being crushed by the door frame. Song knew other victims. The class hunk, known for checking out his hair during class, was crushed by a wall as he rode his motorcycle to school.

Up to five students were thought to still be somewhere under the collapsed buildings.

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