XINJIANG QUAKE SURVIVORS SAY TOLL IS RISING, AID TRICKLING IN


2003.02.28

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28--Residents of China�s earthquake-stricken Xinjiang were preparing Friday to spend a fifth night sleeping outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures, as emergency aid was only beginning to trickle into the remote region, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

"We have nothing,� one elderly woman told RFA�s Uyghur service, asked if her family had received any aid. �We slept outside...We are just sitting outside now. We also cook outside,� said the woman, who lives in hard-hit Chongqurchaq (in Chinese, Qongkurqak) Village.

"My house collapsed," said another Chongqurchaq resident, also a member of the Uyghur ethnic group that constitutes a minority in China but a majority in parts of Xinjiang. �We�ve been sleeping outside for three days now. The weather is terribly cold. We have many children in the house. We live downtown in this village� Most of the houses have collapsed. They are flattened,� he said. "Some houses partly collapsed, but you can still go inside. They are quite dangerous."

Both spoke in the Uyghur language on condition of anonymity. Their comments came through a toll-free telephone hotline set up by RFA�s Uyghur service in the wake of a deadly earthquake early Monday that China says registered 6.8 on the open-ended Richter scale. The U.S. Geogologcal Survey said it read the quake at 6.3. The epicenter was 25 miles (about 55 kms) east of Payzawat (Jiashi), which is about 35 miles (65 kms) east of Kashgar, storied city of the ancient Silk Road.

Chinese authorities, who have refused to authorize travel by foreign journalists to Xinjiang's stricken areas, estimated that around 270 people had died and some 4,000 were injured in the temblor. But residents of Chongqurchaq Village said they believed the toll was significantly higher--and still rising. Several Uyghur residents estimated the number of quake-related deaths in their village at about 1,000, with roughly 1,000 more already undergoing treatment in hospital. More than 10,000 buildings were said to have been reduced to rubble in Chongqurchaq alone.

Sixty-four people had called the hotline as of late Friday, and many voiced anger and frustration at the slow pace of relief efforts. Given the poor communications infrastructure and rugged terrain there at the best of times, Uyghur residents of Xinjiang offered mainly personal anecdotes--and the toll of dead and injured remains uncertain. But their stories, taken together, paint a vivid picture of disaster-driven hardship in what was already one of China�s poorest regions.

"We have no blankets. We are just looking at the stars," said a 70-year-old man in Payzawat (in Chinese, Jiashi) Village, whose home was destroyed.

�I am staying with my children out in the cold,� said another Uyghur man from Chongqurchaq, who estimated that 15 children had died in collapsed school buildings in his village alone. Asked about official reports that all the homeless had been lodged in emergency tents, he replied that his family had received no temporary shelter. �I guess it may take a few more days to get them,� he said. "Our turn has not come yet," said another man, who reported that officials had handed out tents first to those who appeared most alone and needy. The director of a local aid group, the Chongqurchaq Natural Disaster Relief Organization, reported in a telephone interview that his office didn't have enough tents to go around.

A staff member at the Chongqurchaq Village Agricultural Cooperative meanwhile described the situation as "quite severe. It is severe at our cooperative as well. Three people in the family of one of our [staff] died yesterday morning after their house collapsed," he said, adding that many people were still combing the wreckage for survivors.

�I am told that they�ve been taken into shelters,� he said, referring to those made homeless by the quake. But in his village, he said, �We are all staying out in the cold. � I don�t think any schools have standing buildings. Three schoolchildren died yesterday after their classroom collapsed at Central Elementary School.�

�The village hospital is leveled, so all of the injured are being taken to nearby county or military hospitals. There are about 30 emergency operation vehicles around here. Family members are trying now to bury their dead quickly,� in accordance with Moslem tradition, he said.

Separately, a 12-year-child reported by phone that six classmates who had tried to gather up books before fleeing their school building had been pinned and trapped beneath a collapsing wall. All but one home in the neighborhood was destroyed, the boy said, without giving numbers, adding that his family was eating only homemade bread pulled from a hole in what remained of their house.

According to several teachers in Chongqurchaq, at least 20 schools were holding classes outdoors as of Thursday--after every school building in the village collapsed in the earthquake.

On Tuesday, a Uyghur official in at the Kashgar Seismological Bureau, who declined to be named, said three Maralbeshi County (in Chinese, Bachu County) villages were �leveled�: Tot-Ochaq, Seriq-boya, and Alaghir, which are known primarily by their traditional Uyghur names. "But the worst damage was in Chongqurchaq," he said.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content. ###

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