After Quake, Stories of Horror and Hope Abound

According to the latest official count, the earthquake that hit Sichuan province last weekend has so far been the cause of 196 deaths, 12,211 injuries, and 76,000 damaged houses. As the dust has been settling, stories of tragedy and hope have been emerging in the media, along with countless collections of photography from the ground. Following is a round-up of coverage of the quake’s aftermath focusing on the people who’ve been directly affected by the disaster.

The quake, rated at a magnitude of 7.0 according to the China Earthquake Networks Center and 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey (followed by more than 3,600 aftershocks), hit the prefecture-level city of Ya’an in western Sichuan province just after 8:00 AM on April 20. Tremors were felt by Ya’an natives working in nearby Chengdu, who along with other out-of-town Ya’an residents anxiously headed home to survey the damage. The New York Times reports:

[…V]illagers who work in Chengdu, about 100 miles away, streamed back home Sunday morning, many on foot, the lucky ones on motorbikes, to check on their homes.

Song Yuanqing, 43, a construction worker, arrived back after a 22-hour trip to find his roof and the walls unstable. “We would like to do something, but we can’t do anything,” Mr. Song said as he sat with neighbors around an outdoor fire built by the village leader in his backyard. Some people had slept under the machinery at a lumber yard.

[…]Yang Yubing, an executive at a sculpture factory in Baoxing County, one of the hardest-hit areas, said he was visiting Chengdu when he felt the tremors. He immediately left on a seven-hour drive to his home in Baoxing. But emergency workers stopped him when he got close to his apartment, Mr. Yang said. “They said five or six kilometers of roads were collapsed,” he said in a telephone interview. “We are all living in temporary tents in the school.” Badly injured people were taken to hospitals by helicopter, he said.

The Guardian tells of another migrant worker who found his home destroyed and his family missing upon returning to Longmen township in Lushan county – a hard-hit region in northeastern Ya’an:

19-year-old stonemason Shu Liwen was working in the north of Chinawhen he heard the news of the quake. He borrowed money from his boss to buy a plane ticket, went straight to the airport and flew to Chengdu. “The first thing I heard when I arrived was that my colleague, a 40-year-old stonemason, was killed when a boulder hit his car,” he said. “And then a bit later, as I got closer to home, I found out my family home had been destroyed and my mother and brother were missing. I fear for the worst, but I really hope I can find them.”

Many whose homes were left standing evacuated as aftershocks echoed throughout Sichuan, The Guardian reports:

Completely leveling many buildings, and leaving many more unfit for living, the quake and its aftershocks have left an estimated 100,000 people in Sichuan province homeless.

Not all of the displaced have been lucky enough to secure a Red Cross tent. A photo gallery from China Daily shows quake victims living on the street or in cars.

In remote areas like Lushan and Baoxing counties – close enough to the epicenter to be seriously damaged, but too far for relief to be easily distributed – victims were becoming desperate as food and medicine supplies dwindled on Monday. The South China Morning Post reports:

Residents of isolated Baoxing county were relieved when rescuers reached them, but they are still struggling for necessities.

The roads connecting Baoxing and Lushan county, another badly hit area, were repaired on Sunday night, but landslides are making the journey difficult.

It can take up to six hours to make the 40-kilometre trip.

The hilly terrain also makes it difficult for helicopters to land and one had to abandon its mission due to strong winds.

Despite the victims’ desperation, Daily Telegraph reporter Tom Phillips met with much generosity during his travels in the quake zone, including Lushan:

A report from Lushan yesterday also told of the kindness of quake victims, noting a convivial atmosphere amongst some of those most affected by the damage. From the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog:

Given what they had gone through, almost everyone we came across was in surprisingly good spirits, clearly lifted by a sense of camaraderie. Walking through the rubble we came across people playing cards and laughing over dinner. At the temple, kids ran around playing, and several groups insisted we share their food.

While some reporters were met amiably, the Global Times reports that others only added to the chaos:

While a doctor surnamed Chen of West China Hospital conducted the [earthquake counseling] session, nearly 40 reporters swarmed around her podium and delayed the class from starting.

At one point, the incessant flashes of over 30 photographers was enough for one student, who stood up in anger and shouted, “We can’t calm down with all these journalists’ questions and flashes cameras going off!”

Certainly, loss-of-home and lack-of-food add additional trauma to the distressed quake victims. More disturbing though, is the abundance of stories of lost family members. AFP has a video interview with a man who lost his only son – and with him all hope. The South China Morning Post tells of a villager who lost his brother when a kiln collapsed, and the cultural and biological importance of quickly burying the bodies of the deceased:

Grieving relatives had no time to prepare mourning clothes or a proper burial service for 40-year-old quake victim Duan Jihong.

The best Duan Jigui could do was wash his brother’s body after retrieving it from the debris of a collapsed kiln and dress it in new clothes before burying him in a donated coffin.

“We have no other way,” Duan Jigui, 49, said. “The body attracted insects.”

Villagers from Wangjia village in Longmen township carried the coffin up the mountain in morning drizzle for burial yesterday. Duan Jihong’s son burned paper money while villagers watched silently.

As the ground began to shake last Saturday, some recalled the severe devastation of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Of all those who lost loved-ones last weekend, the most tragic stories are of the families who underwent the same horror five years ago. The South China Morning Post tells of  a mother who lost both her children to the movement of the Longmenshan Fault:

Life has not been fair for 50-year-old Lu Jingkang, who lost her teenage daughter in the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Yaan on Saturday. Barely five years earlier, she lost her son in the other catastrophic Sichuan earthquake, in Wenchuan.

“God has been too harsh on me, way too harsh,” Lu told the Yangtse Evening Post on Sunday.

The two deadly earthquakes that struck Sichuan, just 85 kilometres apart from each other, have now left Lu childless.

The South China Morning Post also has news of a girl who, born in the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake, perished in the 2013 earthquake:

Four-year-old Wang Yanxia was considered lucky and a gift to her family when she was born in the wake of the magnitude-8 earthquake that hit Wenchuan, Sichuan, in 2008. Now her family is struggling to face the reality of her death in the Yaan quake.

Falling debris hit Yanxia as she rushed out of the house when the magnitude-7 quake struck Lushan county on Saturday. She died that day at a hospital in Yaan, news portal reported on Wednesday.

“At first we thought that if she managed to survive the Wenchuan earthquake, she would be blessed her entire life. But she did not escape the catastrophe after all,” her mother said, recalling how her daughter loved drawing and dancing.

More uplifting than the Lu and Wang stories are those of new lives coming out of the rubble. Xinhua reports on babies born in the wake of the Ya’an quake:

Mothers in quake-hit areas in southwest China named their new-borns with characters like “luck” and “quake” to mark their births after the devastating earthquake.

Over a dozen babies have been delivered in make-shift tents or even in the open air since the 7.0-magnitude quake jolted Ya’an City in Sichuan Province on Saturday, leaving over 200 people dead or missing and injuring hundreds of others.

Two babies have been named “Zhensheng,” meaning “born in quake,” including one delivered in Ya’an and another in Lushan County near the epicenter, both shortly after the quake that struck at 8:02 a.m..

The Wall Street Journal points to video footage of one such birth:

Other encouraging stories tell of those who made it through the disaster, despite all odds. From the Global Times:

Huang Yurong has no idea how she managed to lift a 100 kilogram object that had fallen on her son during Saturday’s earthquake.

After the family members ran to safety they realized Huang’s son, Ling Li, had been buried under the ruins of their collapsed house. When Huang realized her adult son was missing she went back into the rubble.

“Mom will get you out,” she yelled to her son as she made her way to his side, without regard for her own safety and the danger of further collapse, the Chengdu-based West China City Daily reported on Sunday, without providing the age of Huang or Li.

The mother managed to lift the slab, which the paper did not identify, and got her son to safety.

As Ya’an natives struggle to cope with the damage and death wreaked by the quake, they are receiving emotional, spiritual, and physical support from across China. China Daily has a photo gallery of Buddhist monks who have raised 2.35 million yuan in relief funds at a prayer meeting in Beijing, and China Daily has photos of candlelight vigils throughout China. China View reports on foreign students from Chengdu who traveled to remote Lushan county to volunteer in relief efforts:
For poignant visual accompaniment to the stories linked above, see photo galleries from National Geographic, The Guardian, Caixin, The Economic Observer, and China News. Also see prior CDT coverage of the 2013 Sichuan earthquake.


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.