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(CNN) -- It was early on Saturday when the residents of a small mountain town in the southern Chinese Province of Sichuan were shaken from their morning reverie by a powerful earthquake.
Fearing for their lives, many ran into the streets in terror as buildings around them shook violently and began to collapse.
The town of Longmen found itself at the epicenter of the quake, which struck just after 8 a.m. local time catching most people unawares as they prepared for work and the day ahead.
Some escaped from their homes so quickly that their animals were left tethered helplessly outside.
"I was cooking breakfast," said Xiao Qiong. She described how her son was playing nearby when it struck.
"All of a sudden the house started swaying back and forth," she said. All she could do was grab her son and run.
For Xiao, the tremor was particularly terrifying given her experience five years earlier when the same region was decimated by another earthquake that killed more than 87,000 people. She was pregnant with her son at the time, so when Saturday's quake hit she recalled how scared she was for her unborn child and feared for the worst this time around.
"I shouted his name and screamed 'Where are you? Where are you?'
"I found him lying on a couch ... grabbed him and tripped on my way out. Everything was shaking -- houses, the electricity pole. It lasted a long time."
Both Xiao and her son survived.
But her uncle, who lived next door, was not so lucky after being crushed to death when his house collapsed on top of him.
Though this weekend's earthquake was not as devastating as in 2008, a walk around Longmen and other similarly remote towns and villages in Lushan County attests to considerable suffering, with thousands of people left hungry and homeless amid a wrecked landscape.
"We need everything. We haven't had a proper meal or drank good water since the quake," said Luo Hongying, as a group of fellow residents, both old and young, huddled together in a makeshift shelter.
The 49 year old described how she was leaving the house when it started to shake.
"I was just so frightened, I couldn't think straight," she said. "I just wanted to save my family inside."
Many were forced to spend the night in basic tents without electricity as they wait for more help from the outside world.
Relief efforts have been hampered in their efforts by numerous aftershocks, some of which were stronger than magnitude 5.0, and massive boulders that had tumbled into valleys, blocking the roads into severely affected areas.
The threat of fresh landslides has made the situation all the more perilous for rescue teams searching for victims in the ruins of heavily damaged houses.
A soldier, one of thousands drafted in to help with the rescue operation, was badly injured by falling debris as he worked to find bodies trapped inside wrecked buildings. Fortunately an ambulance managed to get into this town, but it will be very difficult to get him out because of the badly damaged roads.
CNN's Steven Jiang in Lushan contributed to this report.