Pride mixes with sorrow as rescuers toiling to save the living pay tribute to the dead Exhausted, the rescuers stood and proudly held aloft red flags emblazoned with their brigade numbers. Then the cranes, diggers, ambulances, police vans, fire engines, army trucks and jeeps blared their horns, and sirens wailed, to send the dead on their way. A week after tragedy struck the once-beautiful mountain town, Beichuan stopped to remember the thousands crushed to death there and in the surrounding counties by the most powerful earthquake to strike the country since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. Dressed in white shirts - the traditional Chinese colour of mourning - Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and local officials stood in silence and bowed three times out of respect for the more than 50,000 people estimated to have died in the earthquake. 'My heart was trembling with the wailing sirens,' said Pu Taihua, a professional rescue worker from Chongqing. 'I'm in deep sorrow over these lost lives.' A team of doctors from the Chongqing Public Security Firefighters' Hospital fashioned a wreath out of leaves from fallen trees and white surgical masks, which they held aloft amid the sea of orange-suited rescue workers. Across the river, teams of workers stood amid the rubble, heads bowed, in front of a fluttering national flag that had survived the earthquake unscathed. But the three minutes' silence were not observed by a team from a Guizhou fire department, who continued to move lumps of brick and concrete from a spot just 200 metres from the ceremony. Imaging equipment had picked up a body deep in the rubble and there was still hope the person was alive. 'We can't afford to stop for three precious minutes,' said a rescue worker. 'Saving one more life is another way to pay respect to the dead.' Mr Li went on an inspection tour in the heart of Beichuan, clearly shocked by the scale of the devastation. He questioned doctors on the disinfection effort and thanked the leader of the rescue teams for their hard work. Walking down the road, he came to a pile of huge boulders, one the size of a house, and with a pair of legs poking out from below. At Yingxiu in Wenchuan county - the epicentre of the quake - the weather was sunny but the atmosphere cloaked in sadness. Outside what used to be You Kou Middle School, about 40 People's Liberation Army soldiers digging at the huge mass of concrete and metal came to an abrupt halt, their hats off and heads bowed. Some 40 metres away, another 30 rescuers stood still and silent in a straight line, their sharp orange work suits reflecting bright sunshine into their tear-filled eyes. The magnitude-8 quake has ripped the village of its essence - only 1 per cent of households are left. Ironically, some of the people worst hit by the disaster which struck Sichuan a week ago were unaware of the country's collective mourning for their lost loved ones. 'I don't know about it,' said a villager living in a blue and red makeshift tent with a dozen other survivors. 'We're completely cut off, and nobody has told us about it.'