With his automobile shop in Urumqi razed to the ground, store manager Guo Jianxin returned to the wreckage after fleeing with coworkers to a nearby hill, still frightened and shaking on Sunday.
"Fortunately I managed to escape the attacks," said the Geely car store general manager, hours after violence broke out in the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Amid the riots that engulfed Urumqi, where at least 140 were reportedly killed, many store owners of various ethnic groups in the area said they felt lucky just to be alive after hiding and escaping the chaos.
"It was about 10 pm and I saw rioters outside," Guo said. "I asked more than 20 store workers to help protect the shop, but there were too many rioters ... more than 100, holding knives, wooden batons and stones," said Guo, an ethnic Hui.
Failing to dissuade the rioters from entering the store, Guo led his workers up a hill beside the car shop.
The three-story building was ablaze; more than 30 new cars were torched. One worker, whose arm was broken, was sent to hospital.
On the other side of the street was another store owned by a Han couple. They said that when they saw rioters on the streets after 10 pm, they immediately shut the door and escaped.
When they returned, the couple found that the shop was torched. Some 20,000 yuan ($2,940) and a camera in the counter were gone.
Next door a young worker from the southwestern Sichuan province was beaten to death, the couple said.
"I never thought I would come out alive," said a cigarette and liquor store owner standing in front of his empty store with shattered windows Monday. The owner said the store was robbed by rioters on Sunday night.
"The violence from the rioters was getting out of hand around 10 pm, so my sister-in-law I and decided to hide under the bed in the stockroom," said the owner.
He also said that he heard the rioters smashing windows to enter the locked store.
"We've been hiding under the bed for three hours, we thought we were going to die," the owner recalled.
In the hospital
The Urumqi People's Hospital, one of the biggest hospitals in Urumqi, took in 291 victims of the riot.
Among them, 233 were Han, 39 were Uygurs, while the rest were from other ethnic minorities such as Hui and Kazak, said Wang Faxing, president of the hospital.
"Most victims suffered injuries to the head," Xing Haitao, the deputy chief of the emergency department, said Monday.
Seventeen of the patients died later.
In the aftermath of the violence, relatives of the injured expressed their anger about the rioters.
Only separatist organizations can conduct assaults of this magnitude, said Yang Jianxin, director of the ethnic studies center in Gansu-based Lanzhou University.
Barry Sautman, an expert on China's ethnic policies at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said some secessionists used a brawl between Uygur and Han workers in a Shaoguan toy factory in Guangdong province to orchestrate the riot.
"Without presenting evidence, the World Uygur Congress, the main confederation of separatist organizations, has claimed that this amounted to 'government ethnic cleansing'," Sautman said.
He said "if that and similar views were spread to Xinjiang, they would have a provocative effect and contribute to" the violent incident in Urumqi.
Xinhua contributed to the story