Roads in the worst-hit areas were ripped up by the earthquake, leaving survivors with little outside help. Around 50,000 soldiers have been deployed. Some are already at the disaster scenes but the bulk are en route.
Torrential rain across the region has made an appallingly difficult job even worse.
While the survivors are the lucky ones, the rain is adding to their misery, too. Hundreds if not thousands of people were forced to spend the night on the streets under tarpaulins, either because their own homes were no longer safe or even standing or because of afterhsocks.
Some were unhappy with the help available.
“There was nothing,” said this woman. “They did not even give us a box of instant noodles. We have not eaten for one day and that includes all these children.”
This is probably the most significant natural disaster to hit China in decades but the Chinese army has a good record of mobilising and getting people to safety.
However severe aftershocks in the Sichuan capital Chengdu are disrupting aid efforts, where the relief headquarters are based.
Promises of help have come in from around the world with the UK and Japan among those offering assistance.