Marco Garcia, Associated Press
Air Force crew members load relief supplies for China onto a cargo jet at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. The shipment includes tents and 15,000 meals.

WENCHUAN, China (AP) — China stood still Monday, mourning for tens of thousands of earthquake victims, until a government forecast of a possible strong aftershock sent jittery people in the disaster area rushing into the streets.

Construction workers, shopkeepers and bureaucrats across the bustling nation of 1.3 billion people paused for three minutes of tribute at 2:28 p.m. — exactly one week after the magnitude 7.9 quake hit central China.

Air-raid sirens and the horns of cars and buses sounded in memory of the dead, expected to surpass 50,000.

Rescuers also briefly halted work in the disaster zone, where the hunt for survivors turned glum despite remarkable survival tales among thousands buried. Two women were rescued Monday after being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building at a coal mine in Sichuan province, where the quake was centered, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The national pause, on the first of three days of national mourning, seemed stark for a China that is usually in frenetic motion, and the calm ended abruptly late Monday.

A National Seismology Bureau forecast of a possible magnitude 6-7 aftershock that was read aloud on national television jangled already tense nerves. Some people in Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, went into public squares.

In Mianyang, closer to the quake zone, people took pillows, blankets and chairs from homes into the open or slept in cars. The Mianyang Women and Children's Hospital moved patients into the square outside the railway station, setting up beds, medicines trays and tents.

The forecast and reaction were more signs of how scarred the region remains by the May 12 quake, whose confirmed death toll rose to 34,073, according to the State Council, China's Cabinet. Another 5,260 remained buried in Sichuan, the provincial government said, according to Xinhua.

Officials have said they expect final deaths in the disaster to exceed 50,000, with more than 245,000 reported injured. Losses to businesses totaled $9.5 billion, Deputy Industry Minister Xi Guohua said Monday.

In the quake area, more than 200 relief workers were buried over the past three days by mudslides while working to repair roads in Sichuan, Xinhua reported.

An official confirmed there had been mudslides causing some deaths but said casualties were still being counted.

More potential landslides were predicted by the Central Meteorological Observatory, with heavy rains forecast this week for some areas close to the epicenter. And a magnitude 5.4 aftershock Monday afternoon — at least the third in two days — damaged the only road leading out of the city of Qingchuan north of the epicenter, Xinhua said.

The panic set off in Sichuan came from a forecast after experts at the National Seismology Bureau studied data from last week's magnitude 7.9 quake. A Xinhua report said the experts differed over the data but out of concern for the public decided to release the prediction of the "rather great" possibility of a magnitude 6-7 aftershock on Monday or Tuesday.

During three days of national mourning ordered by the government, flags were to fly at half-staff and public entertainment was canceled — the first time China has held a period of mourning for something other than the death of a leader.

It was the most extensive mourning period the government has ordered since the death 11 years ago of communist patriarch Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the free-market reforms that have brought many Chinese from poverty to moderate prosperity in a generation.

The Olympic torch relay, a potent symbol of national pride in the countdown to August's much-anticipated Beijing games, was suspended.

Rescuers in quake-hit Beichuan, who had been working since the morning to reach a victim buried in rubble whose ear was visible, also paused Monday during the moment of tribute.

A convoy of police cars, ambulances and other rescue vehicles let off a long blast from their horns as the workers in orange jumpsuits stood quietly with eyes downcast, some removing their white hardhats.

"Our hearts are so heavy, so many of our compatriots are dead," said rescuer Ma Tangchuan. "As long as we try our best, we have some small hope."

In Beijing's Tiananmen Square, hundreds of people bowed their heads and then began shouting "Long Live China!" while thrusting their fists into the air. Traffic on the capital's highways and roads stopped. Some drivers got out of their cars while others blared their horns.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and other top Communist Party leaders were shown on state TV bowing their heads, white flowers pinned to the lapels of their dark suits. Hu had spent three days touring the worst-hit areas of Sichuan.

Trade on China's stock and commodities exchanges was also suspended for the three-minute period of silence, the Securities Regulatory Commission said.

The government ordered all Internet entertainment and game sites to be taken off-line for the three-day mourning period and users redirected to sites dedicated to quake victims, the Chinese news Web portal sina.com said.

China's National Grand Theater will cancel or postpone all performances, and media reports said bars, nightclubs, karaoke parlors and movie theaters had been shuttered.

Hu Yongcui, 38, said she did not care about the public show of mourning as she headed to Beichuan, near the quake's epicenter, to search for her missing 17-year-old daughter.

"I can't feel anything. I have no words," she said. "I just want to go home. I just want to find my daughter."

At the epicenter in Wenchuan, life appeared to slowly return to normal Monday with shops and a bank open. Residents carting luggage waited in lines for buses to seek refuge elsewhere.

"What shall I do in the future?" asked Su Weiqun, 58, whose husband was killed in the quake. "All the things we have after years of hard work were all destroyed, including the house, the property and the sheep."

In a sign the search for survivors was concluding, Japan said it was considering withdrawing rescue crews it had sent to China to be replaced with an expanded medical team because of declining opportunities to hunt for trapped victims.

"It's been a week since the earthquake and at this point chances we can make use of our technology are very limited," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency. He said the country was ready to "dispatch a team whenever there is a request."

At a meeting led by Premier Wen Jiabao, the government decided that each resident of the disaster area will receive a 600 yuan ($86) monthly living allowance for three months, state television reported.

In Dujiangyan, three local government officials were fired for dereliction of duty over the earthquake — the first officials punished, Xinhua reported. One was reprimanded for miscounting casualty figures, while the others had failed to come to work.

The Communist Party's discipline committee had instructed all officials to "stand at the front line" of the disaster and vowed to deal harshly with those who did not, the agency said.

———

Associated Press writers Audra Ang in Beichuan, Tini Tran in Mianyang and Cara Anna, Anita Chang and Henry Sanderson in Beijing contributed to this report.