Quake survivors forced to go on amid rubble and death

May 21st, 2008 - 10:48 am ICT by admin  

By Till Faehnders
Hanwang (China), May 21 (DPA) Backhoes, steel cutters and bare hands are the most common tools used by firefighters deployed to reach buried survivors of last week’s earthquake in south-western China. They are combing through the Dongfang turbine factory in Hanwang, which once was the town’s pride but now is a heap of rubble.

“We have counted 378 dead and 160 people missing,” said factory manager Peng Jia, who choked when he uttered the figures.

A woman nearby has been trying to locate her son in the ruins. She has searched for hours among the twisted steel pillars and toppled machinery after the ground shook May 12 and the sky fell.

“I am looking for my son every day,” the 67-year-old said, weeping.

Like so many others in China’s Sichuan province, it is her greatest fear that her only son, Fan Dahua, 44, might lie dead under the rubble.

Nearly every survivor there has relatives who are either missing, are known to be trapped under collapsed buildings or have been confirmed dead.

All that remain of most houses are flat fields of crumbled stones and concrete. Many buildings collapsed down to their foundations in the magnitude-8 quake.

The survivors, now homeless and in constant fear of aftershocks, have built themselves shelters of plastic sheets and pieces of wood beside roads or in fields.

Some areas are supplied by drinking water trucks, at which they queue with buckets and any other vessels they can find, but for many, help has come too late.

A man sits on a pile of rubble surrounded by battered CDs in what was once a karaoke lounge. “People are buried there and there,” he said, pointing downward.

Suddenly, four orange-clad relief workers run by carrying a stretcher on which a just recovered corpse lay concealed in a black body bag.

They were followed by a couple of crying women and a young girl across a street that was cut by a fissure several centimetres wide.

At the far end, a covered corpse lay by the side of the road. The smell of decay impregnated the air surrounding it.

Since body bags are scarce and some bodies have been trapped in the rubble for days, the danger of disease has risen. All the hundreds of doctors, police officers and firefighters working in the area wear facemasks.

Their rescue operations were running at high speed since the quake struck, killing more than 50,000 people in southwestern China, according to government estimates.

Police cars and ambulances race incessantly back and forth on the rural roads, their sirens blaring.

Busloads of troops from the People’s Liberation Army have also reached the disaster area around Hanwang. Soldiers load crates of drinking water and instant noodles onto trucks at a warehouse. Aftershocks have hindered the work in which every minute counts.

“We just had another strong tremor,” one soldier said. “The earth tipped back and forth.”

At least the heavy rains that had hampered rescue operations have subsided.

The injured are cared for in blue canvas hospital tents, where a patient recounted how the quake had flattened her nearby village.

“All houses in my village have collapsed,” she said. “There is nothing left.”

She was being treated with her husband who was coughing hard nearby, but they are missing one of their sons.

Most of the residents of her village survived the quake, but nearly everyone sustained injuries.

On the other hand, nearly nothing and no one is left in the village of Renhe near the city of Shifang.

While helicopters hovered overhead, authorities admitted that “some chemicals” were released from a fertiliser factory during the quake, but they added that they did not pose a danger to anyone’s health.

Where there were once farmhouses in a nearby area, only wooden beams now rise to the sky.

“I have no clue how I shall continue with my life,” farmer Luo Caiwu said.

He lost his two sons. One was 9 the other 15 years old.

Just like elsewhere in the disaster zone, their school building collapsed and buried they two boys and another 100 pupils.

About 50,000 people have fled their homes in the area since the earthquake, coming down from the surrounding mountains to seek help in Shifang in 26 camps.

“We can’t possibly accept any more survivors,” said Li Yuanshao, administrator of the largest camp, in which about 2,000 people have found shelter.

“We hope that they soon can return home,” he said.

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