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Relief Work
Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Relief Work
UPDATED: May 20, 2008  
Teachers' Ultimate Sacrifice

As flags throughout the country fly at half-mast in a three-day national mourning period that started Monday, images of those who died in the disaster continue to touch citizens' hearts.

Millions of netizens have likened one heroic teacher to majestic eagle: Tan Qianqiu was found under rubble with both arms extended, shielding four students from being crushed under a desk.

The four children were saved, but Tan, 51, left his wife and two daughters forever.

Tan's wife, Zhang Guanrong, cleaned her husband's face after rescuers pulled his body from the ruins of the Dongqi Middle School in Hanwang town, Deyang city, last Tuesday.

She recalls Tan getting up at 6 on Monday morning, the day the quake struck, dressing their baby daughter and taking the child for a walk before leaving for work.

At China Central Television's donation show broadcast live on Sunday night, Tan's elder daughter, Tang Junzi, who studies law at Peking University, said her father's heroism was characteristic of the man.

"He is the kind of person who must live for his students, even if it means failing his family," she said.

Teachers and students attended a memorial for Tan last Friday at Hunan University, his alma mater in Changsha, Hunan province.

"We shall forever remember the eternal moment. Your extending arms carry the full meaning of your profession and great love."

Kindergarten teacher Qu Wanrong knew there was no escape. The roof of her crowded class was collapsing, but she instinctively knew what to do. Her extraordinary bravery came at enormous cost.

Li Juan, head of the kindergarten, wept as she recalled her colleague's self sacrifice.

"Qu lay on her stomach. Her back kept the fallen cement board away from a child beneath her. The child is safe, but she has left us," Li said.

Huanhuan Kindergarten was in the town of Zundao in Mianzhu. About 400 townsfolk have been found dead, and many more were buried. More than 80 percent of the town's buildings collapsed.

About 50 of the 80 children were killed. Three teachers also lost their lives, and two more still in intensive care.

English teacher Wu Zhonghong, 45, who had taught at Huaiyuan Middle School in the city Chongzhou for 28 years, also gave his life to save others.

Vice-principal Li Hongcheng said the four-story building shook for about one minute before cracking in the middle.

Wu was teaching junior middle school first-graders on the fourth floor, and, according to a student who identified himself as Xiaobin, Wu told the students not to panic and to "take nothing and follow me" as they hurried downstairs.

Suddenly, someone shouted out that two students had been left behind, and Wu ran back up.

"We ran out and the building collapsed. Teacher Wu disappeared," Xiaobin told a reporter.

Rescuers worked throughout the night to find Wu. When they finally found him the next morning, he and four other students had passed away. Most of the 700 students and teachers are safe.

It was a similar story at Yingxiu Elementary School, which was near the epicenter of the quake and lost most of its 70 teachers and 473 students.

Two teachers, Liu Sineng and Ye Shangmin, had been taking a PE lesson at the time of the quake. They and their students survived. When they dug through the debris with their bare hands, they found fellow teacher Zhang Laiya covering two students. The students were alive but Zhang was not. Another teacher, Geng Fang, also died saving two students.

A local radio station broadcast the plight of another school's teacher, Yan Rong.

She stayed behind until 13 students were clear of the school's crumbling building and paid with the price of her life.

Yan's 18-month-old baby daughter, Du Wenxin, might have been orphaned by the quake.

Her father Du Pengxiang, a police officer, was working at the Jiuhuang Airport at the time, and nothing has been heard of him since.

When rescuers on Thursday morning pulled the baby out from the building belonging to the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture Traffic Police, her grandmother was still trapped.

About three hours after rescue work began, the old lady, who was losing a lot of blood, told a doctor: "I really can't make it."

"Hold on, or your granddaughter will be an orphan," the woman doctor said. But three minutes later, the old lady lowered her head and never looked up again.

Kindergarten teacher Wang Dan worked tirelessly with her colleagues to save 800 children in Dujiangyan.

The children had been asleep when the earthquake struck, and their teachers pulled them up and led them to safety.

Wang works in the junior class, where more than 40 children are younger than 4. She and other teachers carried the children out one by one.

A group of 43 children from Jiguanshan Township School survived 24 hours in the most brutal conditions and spoke of how their teachers had worked non-stop day and night to protect them.

The students had just finished their exercises at their remote mountainous school when the earthquake struck.

After parents took away most of the students, 43 were left from Zhugen and Yanfeng, two remote villages with no transportation or communication links.

That night, the 22 teachers cut bamboo to build a shelter against the rain, and when a local hotel owner sent them porridge, the teachers gave it to the children.

As rain continued down pouring, the students were terrified by the aftershocks.

The teachers stood in a circle around the children, shielding them from the rain.

"We kept telling them: 'Your teachers are here, don't be afraid. You can lean on each other to get some sleep'," headmaster Wang Jingping told Chengdu Daily.

The teachers had to stay awake all night in the freezing cold, making sure the canvas wasn't blown away by the strong winds.

"We couldn't lower our hands for one minute," Wang said. When the rain finally eased at dawn, the teachers' arms were swollen and numb.

As soon as about 20 armed police found a way to access the mountain, the teachers decided to send the students to a safer place, with one child between two adults.

"The rain was very heavy. We could see landslides everywhere. Rocks kept falling from above us. It was horrifying," recalled Zeng Shumei, a 12-year-old fifth-grader.

"The road was less than 1 chi (33 cm) wide at the narrowest place and the cliff was right below us," said another pupil, Chen Kefeng.

"They sheltered us with their bodies and inched forward. If someone fell, it could only be the teachers and armed police."

It took the students three hours to plough through 10 km of mountainous paths to a hotel in Wenjingjiang town, from where they were sent to Chongzhou city by the local education bureau.

"When the teachers took off their shoes, blood had soaked through the socks. They couldn't take off the socks," Wang said.

One foreign teacher's cool head saved 29 students at the Guangya IB School in Dujiangyan.

As soon as the quake started, the Australian teacher, known as Dane, shouted "desk, desk" to his students, making sure that all students were beneath their desks. As he finally took cover himself, the ceiling broke and fell.

As soon as the trembling stopped, he led the students downstairs. Dane spent the night with his students on the football field before heading for Chengdu.

(China Daily May 20, 2008))

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