Quake Survivors Lack Food, Water

Corpses remain piled up on the streets of cities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, as the authorities mobilize troops to rescue hundreds of thousands of people believed to be still trapped under rubble. Survivors are camping outside, and many say they have run out of food and water.

China-quake-cry-305b.jpg Earthquake survivors hug each other to cry in Yingxiu of Wenchuan county, after a quake with a magnitude of 7.8 rocked China on May 12, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, on May 15, 2008.
Thousands of survivors of the Sichuan earthquake have been left without food, water, or shelter in one city in the region, where eyewitnesses described dead bodies piled up in the street and no rescue effort to save those still alive but trapped in the rubble.

Collapsed houses and makeshift shelters line the road into Dujiangyan, a historic city close to the epicenter of Monday’s devastating earthquake, around 50 kms (31 miles) to the north of the provincial capital, Chengdu. Public transport has been disrupted on roads into the city, hampering relief efforts and the attempts of people from out of town to check on loved ones after the quake.

One local man recalled of the 7.8 magnitude quake: “The walls collapsed on me. My house and all the furniture and household appliances are gone. After the earthquake, my cellphone could not receive any signal. There was no electricity and no natural gas,” he said. “But we are lucky because no one died in our family.”

Dead bodies pile up

Evidence of the death toll is all around. Dead bodies lie at the roadside, crushed beyond recognition. 

Dujiangyan at dusk is an eerie sight, lit only by the headlamps of cars and the glare of lights brought by the rescue teams. All power to the city has been cut, and survivors are now huddled outside, surrounded by untended dead bodies and in need of basic supplies.

“What people need most desperately are tents and medicines,” a rescue worker bringing supplies to the city said. “The corpses have been lying around for a few days now. I have been to Dujiangyan before. But the place is now in total desolation. It is like a war  zone here.” 

“Some big vehicles are clearing the place but I can still see some bodies along the road. There are many soldiers stationed along the road. They are providing food and water to the refugees here.”

The official Xinhua news agency said a total of 47,813 soldiers, armed police and paramilitary personnel had been dispatched for disaster relief work to Sichuan, with a further 30,000 personnel now en-route to join them, with Premier Wen Jiabao directing operations in person.

Damaged infrastructure

A Chinese soldier stands guard next to injured survivors in Yingxiu of Wenchuan county, after a quake with a magnitude of 7.8 rocked China on May 12, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, on May 15, 2008.
But the quake damage is making access to the worst-hit areas hard, and thousands of stricken families had yet to receive any aid at all. 

“Many schools and even a bank collapsed,” according to one resident of Mianyang city, 160 kms (100 miles) northwest of Chengdu. “We have had no rescue teams working here at all since the earthquake.”

 “No one is rescuing those trapped in the rubble,” said the woman, identified only by her surname, Zhou. “No one is dealing with it. But some are still alive in the rubble. The rescue attempt has been delayed too long. Many residents in other villages have run out of water and food,” she said. 

Around 600,000 people live in the city, which has one of the highest death tolls for a major city in the province. According to official figures, 5,430 died in the city in Monday’s earthquake, and a further 18,486 are trapped under rubble and collapsed buildings.

Bottled water scarce 

Thousands of people now living out of doors for fear of unstable buildings are now running out of food and water, according to a Mianyang resident surnamed Zhang, whose family of five has been in a tent for the past two days.

“Drinking water is very hard to come by here,” he said. “Actually we have run out of water and food. They haven’t been able to send us bottled water.” 

“Some people have been drinking the well water but it is so polluted. We are afraid to drink it for fear of disease. There are several hundred of us without water and food in this area,” he added.

A Guangzhou-based worker from the city contacted his family since the quake and confirmed that no rescue teams had yet been seen in the city.

“There are many bodies lying around with no one to pick them up and deal with them,” he said. “There are no rescue teams there, no water and no food back in my hometown. They are desperate.” 

But a relief worker in downtown Mianyang said some refugees had managed to get to an emergency relief center, which had access to basic supplies from the government.

“There are bottles of water in the center. We have bread, milk and blankets,” said the worker, surnamed Yang. “There are about 10,000 refugees in the center now. The resources are tight but the government is continuously sending us supplies.” 

Original reporting in Mandarin by Lin Di, and in Cantonese by Lee Yong-tim. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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