JIANGYOU, China (CNN) -- The death toll from Monday's 7.9-magnitude earthquake in central China exceeded 12,000 Tuesday, as soldiers -- apparently working without equipment -- used their hands to move rubble and reach victims at the epicenter.
Sichuan provincial military commander Xia Guofu led more than 300 soldiers and disaster workers into the epicenter of the quake -- Wenchuan county in Sichuan Province on Tuesday.
The soldiers estimated 3,000 people of the town's population of 12,000 survived the quake.
They also reported more than 70 percent of the roads in the town were damaged, and almost all bridges had collapsed. On Monday, rescuers were stranded outside Wenchuan because of roads blocked by boulders and rocks.
They pulled more than 1,000 people from under debris but did not say how many were survivors, according to the disaster relief headquarters of the Chengdu Military Area Command.
On the way to Wenchuan, a reporter for China's official Xinhua news agency said he encountered five men who escaped the disaster. Tan Bin, 56, a resident in the Shuimo Township of Wenchuan, said they had walked more than 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Wenchuan.
"When the quake happened, we couldn't stand straight, and we held each other's hands and ran out of our factory," he said.
More troops were expected to be sent to Wenchuan, said Ye Wanyong, political commissar(大陸特有的官員，尤其是共產党體制下) of the Sichuan command.
A senior official with (比and更好的寫法，比整篇文章都是and來連接的好)the Sichuan provincial government said Tuesday the death toll was still rising, Xinhua reported.
Li Chengyun, vice governor of Sichuan, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon the death toll was based on incomplete figures tallied by 4 p.m.
He said another 26,206 people were injured and as many as 3.5 million homes were destroyed.
More than 25,000 people were trapped under rubble, most of them -- 18,645 -- in Mianyang City, about 30 miles northeast of the epicenter, according to Xinhua.
A string of nearly 30 seismic jolts hit the province in the first 24 hours following Monday's quake and slowed the progress of rescue teams. All of those quakes were magnitude 4.0 and above.
A Chinese Civil Affairs Ministry official said his country welcomed foreign donations of money and materials, but it was not ready for outside teams of rescue and relief workers because its transportation system could not handle the additional traffic.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao ordered military forces to clear roads as much as possible by midnight so rescue workers and soldiers could move more quickly to reach victims. Soldiers were ordered to air-drop supplies such as food and medicines.
According to state-run media, Wen held an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, saying, "People's lives and property safety are the top priorities and many people are still trapped in debris. We must treasure every second and do our utmost to (比do our best更漂亮的講法) save survivors."
Many key roads remained impassable, and authorities said it would take about two days to reopen them.
CNN's John Vause saw block after block of devastation in the town of Jiangyou, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the epicenter, arriving there about a day after the quake hit.
"These people who live in the city are now hunkering down under tarpaulins and under tents," Vause said, as a steady drizzle added to the misery. "Many are afraid to go back indoors because their buildings are no longer safe."
Communication with survivors near the epicenter has been difficult because of broken telecommunication lines and poor weather. An official using a satellite phone did give an initial report that about a third of all buildings had collapsed and another third were seriously damaged, Xinhua said.
In Guixi Township -- 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the epicenter -- thousands of residents huddled under makeshift tents and tarps, their only shelter from a steady rain Tuesday.
Row after row of houses collapsed during the earthquake, leaving people with no place to go and many injured and hungry people wandered the streets. The roads to the town were open, but still no relief workers were around.
An expert told CNN the earthquake, which struck at 2:28 p.m. Monday, was the largest the region has seen "for over a generation."
Also in the area, all 86 animals at the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center were safe, Xinhua reported. The center is one of the biggest panda refuges in the world.
Also, the World Wildlife Fund has been unable to contact 12 members who had been touring the country when the earthquake struck, said WWF spokeswoman Kerry Zobor.
David Jones, an English teacher in Chengdu, told CNN: "The mood here has gone from fear, shock to real tiredness." He added that "people here have been really, really helpful to each other," and said there were long lines when he went to donate blood.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport reopened Tuesday after authorities inspected its runways for damage following the quake, Xinhua reported. The resumption of air service gives the province additional links for funneling supplies into the badly battered region.