Sichuan Reeling From Quake

The worst earthquake to hit China in three decades leaves thousands of people waiting anxiously for news of the missing, many of whom are believed trapped beneath collapsed buildings. Authorities say the toll is now around 12,000, and rising.

A Chinese boy waits to be rescued from the rubbles of a collapsed building in Beichuan, southwest China's Sichuan province on May 13, 2008 after an earthquake measuring 7.8 rocked the province.
Survivors of the worst earthquake to hit China in decades are anxiously awaiting news of missing loved ones as rescue workers struggle to reach tens of thousands of people believed trapped under collapsed buildings in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

“The building is three storeys high, with 18 classrooms. All of a sudden, the building collapsed,” one volunteer rescue worker from Dujiangyan, a former beauty spot in the south of Wenchuan county, said. 

“Many people have died. The People’s Liberation Army are rescuing those trapped under the rubble. Such a terrible tragedy. Many parents are having to wait here for news,” he said.

A driver from the same town said many people were hanging around in open, public spaces of the former tourist town. “Most of the buildings are gone. There are now a lot of big holes in the ground,” he said. 

In neighboring Pangzhou city, 10,000 villagers are believed trapped in mountainous areas. Most of the buildings have collapsed, and rescue teams and disaster relief supplies are unable to get to the city for the time being.

An official from the local municipal government said: “We are waiting for the deployment of relief resources and rescue teams now. This is a line for asking for assistance. We are very busy now, so I can’t say too much.”

Death toll at 12,000 and rising

China’s official media now say the earthquake death toll in Sichuan province has topped 12,000 and could surge higher. 

The vice governor of the southwestern province, Li Chengyun, said the death toll was based on incomplete figures as of Tuesday afternoon. He said 26,206 people were injured, up to 3.5 million homes destroyed, and more than 12,000 had been killed. Tens of thousands remain unreachable and unaccounted for.

The official Xinhua news agency also said more than 18,645 people were buried under rubble in a single city, Mianyang, with 3,629 people killed there. Mianyang borders the epicenter of the earthquake.

Beichuan hit hard 

A villager in Beichuan county, one of the worst-hit areas in the north of the province, said he saw his 80-year-old father trapped and killed in the collapse of a building.

“As I was struggling to get away from our house, I saw some stones crushing him. He had a blood transfusion but it was already too late by then, and he passed away,” he said.

Also in Beichuan, a tea businessman surnamed Feng said he had lost 10 members of his family in the tremor, which registered at least 7.8 in magnitude, striking Sichuan May 12 with its epicenter about 100 kms (60 miles) from the provincial capital, Chengdu.

When the earthquake came, he happened to be out of town, and he went back on Tuesday to look for his family. 

“I went back to the town and the scene is horrible. I just found my sister but I lost my dad, [and] my mom. We lost at least 10 family members in the tremor. With such a disaster, my mind is already numb. Honestly, I am weeping non-stop as I am talking to you,” Feng said.

According to Feng, most people who survived the earthquake in Beichuan had already left for nearby Mianyang city. 

“More than 95 percent of the survivors are currently not in Beichuan,” he said. “There are only medical teams, rescue teams, armed police, and PLA soldiers now in the town. A lot of the dead remain buried under the rubble.”

“The town has a population of around 20,000. It’s estimated but might be inaccurate that only 7,000 or 8,000 people survived,” he added. 

Wenchuan damage

Meanwhile, a resident of Wenchuan county said he left home last Saturday. “I cannot contact my relatives and friends living there. But all my own family members are now living out of the town,” the man, surnamed Duan, said. 

Duan said that his hometown of Yingxiu had a population of about 30,000 people, and most houses were built along the river.

“There is a river flowing between mountains, and the town center is located at the foot of the mountain. The houses are on both sides of the Min river. The earthquake must have had an impact on the town,” Duan said. 

Trapped in Hanwang

In Hanwang village, Mianzhu city, in the east of the same county, 2,000 people were killed and more than 10,000 were injured. Authorities estimate that around 5,000 remain trapped.

A resident who worked outside the city called his family who live in the downtown area of Hanwang. 

“They are all gone,” he said. “Many people were killed. The phones don’t work. Only some landlines can get through. Even pagers won’t work. The death toll and injured are very heavy there, but no media have covered it. I just learned about how serious the situation is from the Internet.”

Video account 

Video posted by two university students in Chengdu showed violent shaking of furniture and loud rattling and banging noises, with objects falling from bookshelves, and the two men sheltering under tables.

Later, they emerge to report the time and date live on the Internet, before panning the camera around the crowds of frightened people in the courtyard below, as the building in which they are standing continues to sway. 

Troops on site

Troops were already stationed in the Tibetan region of Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi] in Sichuan following Tibetan unrest there that began in mid-March. 

According to a local hotel employee, about 300 soldiers left the hotel Tuesday morning. “They all went back to Chengdu. All other troops in other hotels are all gone,” the employee said.

Authorities have denied receiving any advanced signs or technical readouts indicating an earthquake in Sichuan.

But a screenshot from the Sichuan Provincial People’s Government Web site, dated May 9, said village officials from Ma’erkang county told villagers of concern over the possibility.

The statement discounted what it called earthquake rumors. The page has since been deleted.

Chengdu airport was said to be open, but many flights were delayed or cancelled after the quake.

In the municipality of Chongqing, China’s third city, 11 people died in the earthquake, 34 people sustained serious injuries, and 118,000 people were evacuated.

‘Run! Hurry!’ 

One local resident, a woman, described the May 12 earthquake: “All of a sudden I felt dizzy. Things on the table started flying all over the place. Our house is a one-storey structure...I thought, how strange...”

“I looked over at my bed. It was shaking. And the door was shaking. It was not even windy. How come the door was shaking? I ran outside. My neighbors were already out on the street. They yelled, ‘It’s an earthquake! Run! Hurry!’ So we all started to run. Things were shaking for about one minute,” she said. 


Aftershocks have been occurring frequently. A Chongqing-based man described continuing aftershocks late Tuesday, but that they were less severe than on Monday.

“The aftershocks today have not been as violent as the ones yesterday. The ones yesterday were pretty scary. We all ran out the door yesterday when the aftershocks occurred,” he said.

“There were so many people on the streets that the traffic stopped. We were so scared. We thought the building was going to collapse.”

Original reporting in Cantonese by Lee Yong-tim and Lee Kin-kwan, and in Mandarin by Lin Di, Qiao Long and Yan Xiu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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