China earthquake has caused devastation and despair

A Chinese national flag planted on debris in Longmen. Photo: REUTERS/Stringer

We drove for hours through the worst affected areas, and there was damage all along the roads.

The Sichuan earthquake has caused devastation and despair.

Song Zhengqiong, a survivor, cries in front of her damaged house. Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

I spoke to one survivor whose mother had been killed when the earthquake struck. Her body found in the rubble of their home.

She's lost her mum and everything the family owned. They are now forced to sleep under plastic sheeting.

"We need food and water" she told me.

Lives will never be the same.

A boy cries as his mother holds him in front of their damaged house. Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

In Longmen, closest to the epicentre, although many buildings are still standing, they're unstable, shops are shuttered, houses are empty.

The tents are full, thousands are homeless. Refugees in their home town. Unsure of what tomorrow will bring.

The army shares the camps, a massive military operation has been launched, the local school is now a busy air base.

Supplies are not yet getting to everyone who needs it, we saw groups of people standing on the roadside holding signs saying 'there are 500 people here, we need food and water'.

Rescuers carry out an elderly person from a collapsed house. Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

Five years ago this area was devastated by a huge earthquake, 90,000 were killed, the government was accused of cover up and incompetence.

This time China's new leaders have ordered a massive relief effort, even though the damage is nowhere near the scale of the 2008 disaster.

But life is tough in rural china and it just got a lot harder.