MIDLAND, Texas (AP) _ Youngsters prayed and anxious adults with children of their own looked on as rescuers struggled to reach Jessica McClure, the toddler trapped in an abandoned well into which other children used to throw rocks.

''I don't know these people, but it's really been emotional for me,'' said Carol Davis, a mother of six who watched the rescue effort Thursday.

Throughout the day, the curious came and went, watching from backyards and the street in this working-class neighborhood filled with the din of jackhammers and generators.

In the yard where the effort continued today, a small mimosa tree was almost covered with the rock that had been hewn from the earth to create a shaft rescuers hoped would become the 18-month-old girl's tunnel to safety.

Paramedic Bill Walker wiped soot from his brow. ''They keep telling me, 'Go home, go home.' But I ain't going home,'' he said. ''I'm not leaving here till we get that little girl out.''

After school was out Thursday, Lynne Markgraf brought 13 children from a Midland YMCA. They held hands in a circle as she said a brief prayer. Some wept.

''It's hard to stop crying,'' said 8-year-old Amy Dyer, a friend of a cousin of the trapped girl. ''An 18-month-old baby, that's quite small.''

Ms. Markgraf said the children wanted to come to the scene. ''I definitely feel once this thing is played out they will feel they were part of a victory,'' she said. ''The children are very optimistic.''

''I have a 22-month-old baby myself - my heart goes out to the McClures and to Jessica,'' said Dr. Carolyn C. Rhode, the physician who delivered Jessica. ''I'm very concerned, and I am praying for her.''

The abandoned backyard water well is one of hundreds in town, many of them veiled by thick prairie grass. Neighborhood children said they occasionally threw rocks down the 8-inch shaft into which Jessica fell.

Next door to the rescue scene, the Salvation Army and Red Cross served refreshments to reporters and rescue workers. The yard became an instant press area, with a forest of ladders for peering over the fence at the scene.

Journalists walked in and out of the small, white frame house to use the telephone. ''We're used to company,'' laughed Becky Sprague, whose mother-in- law owns the home.

''We talked to London today and to (NBC anchorman) Tom Brokaw's office, which we never would expect to do. It livens up the neighborhood a lot,'' said Dennis Sprague, Mrs. Sprague's brother-in-law, who had been awake about 36 hours.

As night fell and floodlights came on for a second night of digging, Fire Chief James Roberts said, ''If you would have asked me yesterday morning, we wouldn't be here today.''