Soldiers, civilians and Tibetan monks combed through rubble in Qinghai province, two days after a powerful earthquake hit the remote region.
Heavy equipment and aid are now arriving in Yushu county, where 791 people are known to have died, with another 294 missing.
Local people say they believe the number of dead is much higher.
Visiting the area, Premier Wen Jiabao promised “all-out efforts” would be made to rebuild the devastated region.
With an estimated 15,000 houses destroyed in Yushu, thousands of homeless people and casualties have been waiting for help.
The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas, who has reached the worst-hit town of Jiegu, said the first thing he saw was a line of toppled pagodas, shops and other buildings.
He said many townspeople were fearful of going back even where their homes had survived. Others were leaving town, with whatever they could carry.
Heavy-lifting equipment has been brought in by road from hundreds of kilometres away and food, tents and medical supplies are arriving too.
One doctor said he had lost track of how many people they had treated.
“They just keep coming one after the other,” said Myima Jiaba, working at a makeshift hospital in Jiegu.
“Right now, what we need is a lot of medicine. We need antiseptics and antibiotics. And overall, we need more tents and food, and sanitation.”
*please note that Plateau Perspectives and Yushu Earthquakre Relief are not affilliated with the BBC News