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Article---Disaster relief dominates China
By Ren Ke, China Features

2008-05-22

A team of firemen were digging out survivors from a collapsed teaching block at a school, when they were ordered to withdraw as an aftershock jolted the debris. Some shouted that they had found other child survivors, and tried to rush back to the site, but suddenly it collapsed.

"Please let me save one more! I can save another one, please!" A young fireman who saved a child minutes ago fell on his knees, crying out desperately while others tried to drag him away to safe places.

But there was really nothing left but to cry, watching another big cement slab falling down from the debris.

It was a scene in Mianzhu County of southwest China's Sichuan Province, 80 kilometers from Wenchuan County, the epicenter of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake that jolted most of China and even some neighboring countries at 14:28, May 12. In the 100,000-square kilometer disaster-hit area, the tragedies that separate the living and the dead are always on show.

As of May 19, the death toll had climbed to 34,073. The total is expected to go beyond 50,000.

Facing the most catastrophic disaster in China since the Tangshan Earthquake that killed some 240,000 people in 1976, Chinese people around the country, firemen, soldiers, armed policemen, doctors and ordinary citizens alike, have been eager to contribute their share to the disaster relief work.

In Qushan Elementary School in the county seat of Beichuan, a group of 200 policemen from Tianjin, a municipality in north China, have been busy digging out survivors since May 13. A fifth-grader, Zhang Li, was sitting in front of the door of the collapsed classroom, shouting "help me, uncles!" Beside him lay the remains of his classmates. In another ruin, a boy being crushed under floorboards stretched out his fingers, and kept groaning.

Beichuan County, about 160 kilometers northeast of Wenchuan, was one of the worst damaged in the earthquake, with a death toll of 8,400 plus. About 80 percent of the buildings collapsed in the old town area and nearly 60 percent were leveled to the ground in the new town.

Policemen saved more than 400 victims within 24 hours. However, as landslides had blocked the roads, heavy equipment cannot be delivered to the area, and policemen had to rescue the victims with such simple tools as shovels and drills.

Two days after the quake came a group of firemen from the neighboring Shaanxi Province, who brought with them electric saws and clamps. Still, they often found themselves helpless to save the survivors deeply trapped in the rubble.

"If only the slightest hope exists, we will spare no effort; if only there is one survivor in the debris, we will never give up," Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao said over the debris of a collapsed school building where hundreds were buried. Wen arrived at the disaster-hit area within three hours after the quake.

The epicenter, Wenchuan County, is on the southwestern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, under the jurisdiction of Sichuan's Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. The mountainous and remote nature of this region, as well as bad weather and landslides, kept rescuers from reaching Wenchuan for 24 hours. Communications broke down, and there was no electricity or drinking water. It became an isolated island.

In Xuankou Middle School of Wenchuan, student Wang Song had been waiting for two days after the tremor. He was desperate until he saw two helicopters hovering above his head, dropping biscuits, mineral water and ham.

"I saw hope at that moment," said Wang Song, "Some fellow students hailed loudly, some others cried out. Everyone was excited."

The Chinese air force has been mobilized to drop food, tents and other relief materials for the victims. At the same time, parachute troops landed at the epicenter region. It was the debut for the Chinese paratroops in disaster relief operations. Numerous trains, trucks and planes are heading for Sichuan, where more than 100,000 soldiers and 70 plus generals of the Chinese People's Liberation Army are already carrying out search and rescue missions.

Rescuers removed the blocks on the roads to Wenchuan, enabling large equipment to enter the disaster-affected areas. Thirty-three hours after the quake, Wenchuan, as well as other badly hit towns, were no longer isolated. More and more injured survivors were quickly sent to temporary hospitals in the quake-hit region.

In other parts of China, the earthquake and the ensuing relief efforts have taken a grip on everyone's heart. Wenchuan, Qingchuan and Beichuan, these once unknown places became familiar names overnight to the ordinary people. More newspapers were sold. On Beijing's buses, passengers are watching the mobile TV broadcasting the latest news from Sichuan, and some of them burst into tears for the horrible loss of lives and property to the catastrophe.

People were gathering at every mobile blood donation vehicle in Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and other mega-cities. Beijing's blood bank turned full within 46 hours. However, people were still waiting in queues in a bid to get the opportunity to donate their blood.

"It seems that the queue would never become short," said a netizen named springwang1219 on a web forum, who waited for five hours in front of a blood donation vehicle at the Beijing Zoo. "With so many warm-hearted compatriots, I believe we can give comfort to the people in the disaster-hit areas."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had said that China welcomed international aid. Russia sent in tents and materials for the victims, while Japanese, Korean and Singaporean professional rescue teams also arrived in Sichuan.

Lu Wei, the charge nurse of Gulou Hospital in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, arrived in Mianyang City with her 105 colleagues one day after the quake. They brought with them more than 200,000 milliliters of blood donated by the Jiangsu people. Standing with the local medical workers side by side, they started their first aid work in the overwhelmed hospitals.

"Most of the patients have to live in the tents at the gate of the hospital. Asepsis dressings are running out," said Lu. As the main road to Beichuan was open to traffic again, more wounded people were sent to her hospital. She had helped the doctors perform eight operations on the morning of May 13.

"Surgical instruments are badly needed, because many severely wounded people need operations," said Lu. Lack of food is another problem, Lu said, as they had only steamed bread, corn and potatoes for the present. However, despite all these disadvantages, they had still treated 500 seriously wounded people in 24 hours.

The Chinese people pour out their support and sympathy for earthquake victims and relief workers on the Internet. Mobile phone subscribers received text messages that read: "At the moment, we are all Wenchuan people!" On the popular web forum Tianya.cn, the webpage headline called on everyone to "see yourself as a native of Sichuan".

In the meantime, financial donations are flowing into Sichuan. Every minute since the earthquake, the Red Cross Society of China received 10,000 yuan (1,440 US dollars), and there are other donation channels. Ordinary people, state-owned and privately-owned companies, and Chinese overseas opened their wallets, and most importantly, their hearts, to earthquake victims.

Volunteers are acting. Knowing the transport capacity in the disaster-hit area badly needed bolstering as an increasing number of injured victims were found, taxi drivers in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, immediately drove their green-colored cabs to the city of Dujiangyan, 60 kilometers from downtown Chengdu.

In Beijing, a group of 20-plus volunteers, including communication engineers, doctors and journalists, rushed to Mianyang City of Sichuan to help the victims. The organizer said that they paid their own traveling expenses.

"I have resigned from my job," said the organizer, a former computer engineer in a foreign-funded company who would only give his surname Zhou. "Currently we need more doctor volunteers, to save as many people as possible."

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