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Relief Work
Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Relief Work
UPDATED: May 14, 2008  
Powerful Earthquake Devours County in Sichuan
"People escaped from the buildings, but were only devoured by the landslides," said a survivor named Lei Xiaoying

Beichuan County has prided itself as the birth place of a heroic Chinese ancestor Da Yu, who, according to legends, tamed the inundant Yellow River. But it was almost devoured by a powerful earthquake which rocked southwest China's Sichuan Province and was felt in many parts of the country on Monday.

Officials said about 80 percent of the buildings collapsed in the old town area and nearly 60 percent were flattened in the new town. The death toll was estimated up to 5,000.


Beichuan was encircled by hills about 500 to 1,000 meters high and when the quake struck, few escaped.

"People escaped from the buildings, but were only devoured by the landslides," said a survivor named Lei Xiaoying

"Mountains around the town collapsed onto the low-lying areas. There was no where to escape," she said.

"More tremors followed the earthquake and didn't stop until Tuesday morning, and many more rocks were thrown downhill," she said.

After the tremor, government buildings, schools and kindergartens were buried. In a hospital, only three doctors and four nurses escaped. In the Beichuan Middle School, at least 1,000students and teachers were buried when the main building, seven storey high, was toppled and reduced to a pile of rubbles about 2 meters high.

Rows of apartment buildings dropped to the ground. Collapsed houses were everywhere in about 20 kilometers diameter around the downtown Beichuan. Telecommunications and electricity were cut down.

The exact number of people dead is still not available, but local residents said they fear at least 7,000 to 8,000 died.

Zhu Qin, a fifth-grade student in the Qushan primary school in Beichuan, said she escaped with the help of her teacher, but many of her classmates never ran out.

"My mother works in a kindergarten, and I guess she didn't get out. My sister is nowhere to find either," she said.

The downtown Yangjiajie market was plastered by a residential building which fell right onto its top. Xiang Shiyong, 42, said his wife was taking care of their shop at the market and never ran out.


The disaster relief headquarters in Mianyang, which administers Beichuan, said about 6,000 soldiers and 250 medical staffs were working in Beichuan and nearby counties. More than 3,700 more troops and 1,000 other rescuers are on their way.

In the Beichuan Middle School, about 1,000 policemen were searching for survivors in the ruins. About a dozen of officers stood hands in hands along a cliff to protect people evacuating from the county.

By Tuesday night, about 5,000 people have been evacuated and some are staying in stadiums in the neighboring Mianyang city.

Nurses who came to rescue from Mianyang shouted to the debris in an attempt to reach anyone still alive. A nurse was seen holding a young man's hand and talking to him while waiting for rescuers. The man's body was stuck between cement slabs.

Soldiers said before more rescue facilities were brought in, they had to use ladders and cabinet doors to carry the injured.

Local people also helped each other and rescued those who had better chances of survival. Residents from neighboring counties also came to assist the rescue work.

Lin Xin, vice mayor of Mianyang, said the destruction was too severe to recover immediately. "Some of the road sections were covered almost seamlessly by debris, and the only way to clear was to use explosives, but we fear that could trigger more landslides," he said.

"We are doing everything we could here, but the rescue work was met with a lot of difficulties," he said.

Continuous drizzles have left streets mired and only complicated the rescue operations. It was still difficult to pull out people buried deep under the wreckages, and it took more than 10 people to rescue one in areas too small for large excavators, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 14, 2008)

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