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Tibetan Monks Relive Quake Rescue

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Looking over a vast grassland and yak herds from his monastery perched on a mountain on the Tibetan plateau, young monk Karma Namgyal barely notices the tranquility of the scene.

"I'm thinking about Yushu all the time," the Tibetan Buddhist said at his home at Sershul Monastery in Sichuan Province, one week after his return from saving lives in neighboring Qinghai Province.

At least 2,200 died and more than 100,000 were left homeless when the 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked Yushu Prefecture April 14.

A remote area with average elevation of 4,000 meters, Yushu is hard to reach. Before thousands of soldiers, armed police, professional rescuers and medical workers arrived, Tibetan monks were the main rescue force.

At least 3,000 Tibetan monks from 36 monasteries volunteered for the rescue operation in the hardest hit town of Gyegu, said Yushu police chief Pan Zhigang. Two thirds of them came from monasteries outside Yushu.

"We didn't have enough police in Yushu," he said. "Though they were inexperienced, the monks helped a lot."

Karma Namgyal happened to be in Gyegu when the quake hit. Frightened by the tremor, he fled from his hotel to see the destruction unfold.

"A multi-story hotel in the town center collapsed. I saw so many bodies and heard cries for help under the debris," he said.

"I felt sad because I wanted to save more, but I had no tools."

Back at Sershul, about 500 monks had been mobilized four hours after the quake, said Khenpo Konchok Thusang. Riding on 40 trucks, vans and cars along the mountain roads, they reached Gyegu two hours later.

They were among the first to arrive.

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