BEICHUAN, China — The orange-suited emergency workers had just pulled someone out of the rubble alive Saturday when a chilling cry reverberated around the tilting high-rises, the toppled construction cranes and the market littered with bodies: The valley was about to flood.
In a panic, thousands of soldiers, earthquake survivors and aid workers raced headlong for the hills, some helping babies and old people negotiate a mountain of jagged debris. "Move it!" one commander yelled.
There was some confusion Saturday over the exact source of the scare, but authorities indicated that the problem was a so-called barrier lake, created when an earthquake or avalanche dams a river.
A mountain sheared off by the tremor cut the Qingzhu river and swallowed the riverside village of Donghekou whole, entombing an unknown number of people inside a huge mound of brown earth.
A lake rising behind the wall of debris threatens to break its banks and send torrents cascading into villages downstream.
The government in Beijing has been playing down the threat of another disaster as it works overtime to reassure the public. But the warning Saturday underscored how jittery people's nerves still were, given the threat of aftershocks and the risk that flooding in this mountainous area could claim more lives.
In all the devastation wrought by the quake, little looks as bleak as Donghekou.
The road to the village ends in a tangled twist of metal and tar. In the small valley below, the village itself disappeared when the mountain collapsed. Locals said two other villages further upstream, Ciban and Kangle, suffered the same fate. The three villages were home to about 300 families, locals said.
A strong aftershock — the second in two days and measured by the U.S. Geological Survey at magnitude 5.7 — shook the area early today for 45 seconds.
The confirmed death toll Saturday rose to 28,881, Cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin said, with 10,600 still buried in Sichuan province. Two U.S. Air Force cargo planes were expected to arrive in Sichuan on today from Hawaii and Alaska loaded with tents, blankets, food and generators, the first aid flight from the United States.
Rescuers pulled at least seven more survivors from collapsed buildings, the last a man saved after 128 hours. Both of his legs had to be amputated. Another, 20-year-old highway worker Jiang Yuhang, was pulled free shortly after his mother arrived from a neighboring province.
"I was expecting to see my son's body. I never expected to see him alive," his mother, Long Jinyu, said on state television.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.