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Girl's legs are amputated to gain freedom

Chinese doctors amputated a teenage girl's crushed legs on Thursday, the only way they could pull her alive from the wreckage of her school three days after an earthquake flattened swathes of the country's southwest.
Image: Rescuer carries high-school student Yang Liu from rubble in Hanwang
A rescuer carries Yang Liu, wearing a helmet, from the rubble after doctors amputated her legs to free her at a collapsed school in the township of Hanwang, in Mianzhu city north of Chengdu, on Thursday.Bobby Yip / Reuters
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Chinese doctors amputated a teenage girl's crushed legs on Thursday, the only way they could pull her alive from the wreckage of her school three days after an earthquake flattened swathes of the country's southwest.

Yang Liu was trapped in what appeared to be a doorway by Monday's massive 7.9 magnitude quake, near the top of a  massive pile of bricks and concrete.

Her position likely saved her life.

Moments after the hasty, on-site surgery took place, doctors carried her down the hill of rubble, before speeding off in a waiting ambulance to hospital in the nearby city of Deyang.

"We saved her," said one of the doctors involved, walking away from the site still wearing a face mask and with a stethoscope around his neck. "Her condition is still quite precarious."

On Wednesday, rescuers had led a photojournalist to the school to take pictures of Yang for surgeons to study in preparation.

As doctors did their work, cranes clearing the site halted and the crowd at the school ground, many of them relatives of  the victim, fell silent.

Another doctor, surnamed Wang, said the whole operation took less than 20 minutes.

"It didn't take long at all, they just needed to cut through the bones," he said.

Rescuers then returned to the grim task of sifting through the rubble, pulling several contorted bodies from the remains of the school just moments after doctors had finished their work.

Rising toll
Separately on Thursday, the government warned that the death toll from this week's earthquake could soar to 50,000.

The confirmed death toll reached 19,509, up from the nearly 15,000 confirmed dead the day before, according to the Earthquake and Disaster Relief Headquarters of the State Council, the country's Cabinet. The council said deaths could rise to some 50,000, state TV reported.

The government also appealed to the Chinese public calling for donations of rescue equipment including hammers, shovels, demolition tools and rubber boats. The plea on the Ministry of Information Industry's Web Site said, for example, that 100 cranes were needed.

More than 130,000 soldiers and police joined the relief operation, Xinhua said.

"This is only a beginning of this battle, and a long way lies ahead of us," Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang told reporters in Beijing.

"We will never give up hope," he said. "For every thread of hope, our efforts will increase 100-fold. We will never give up."