Forecast of a strong aftershock in southwest China's Sichuan Province late on Monday has prompted panic among the local residents as well as the neighboring Chongqing Municipality and Guizhou Province.
The provincial seismological bureau in Sichuan forecast on Monday night that an aftershock between six to seven on the Richter scale was likely to rock Wenchuan County, about 159 kilometers from Chengdu and epicenter of last Monday's devastating quake, on Monday or Tuesday, and warned local governments and people to be prepared for emergencies.
The aftershock warning came a week after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 34,000 people. The final death toll was expected to reach 50,000.
The forecast, which was repeated via TV and radio in Sichuan, sent many citizens in Chengdu away from home. Private cars trying to get out of the city center packed urban roads between Monday night and Tuesday morning. The congestion was worsened by vehicles that lined up in front of gasoline stations waiting to fill up their tanks.
Many citizens in Chengdu spent a sleepless night by sitting up and getting prepared to escape or setting up tents in the open air.
Residents of the outer districts and counties also fled home amid the quake scare.
Despite the panic, many people praised the government's sense of responsibility in publishing the aftershock forecast. Some, however, complained it had come "too late".
The quake warning also prompted panic in the neighboring Chongqing Municipality and Guizhou Province.
The majority of the residents in urban Chongqing sheltered in tents in squares, parks and public green areas on Sunday night, after the municipal government warned the aftershock would be felt clearly in Chongqing.
The panic was much worse in Guizhou, where reports of frog and toads migration also spread public fear.
In Tongzi County of Zunyi, a city in the north of Guizhou that borders Sichuan and Chongqing, some villagers said they saw massive migration of frogs and toads on Monday night, which they took as quake forecast, Zunyi's Vice Mayor Zeng Yongtao told Xinhua over the phone.
He said the city government sent investigators to the county overnight. Xinhua tried to call a county official, but his cell phone was unanswered.
"We had to answer hundreds of phone inquiries from 10 pm on Monday to midnight," said Chen Benjin, head of the Guizhou Provincial Seismological Bureau. "Everyone asked if the aftershock was to affect Guizhou."
He said the geological structure in Guizhou was stable and devastating earthquakes were unlikely in the region. "We monitored four strong aftershocks over 6.0-magnitude in Wenchuan in the past week, none of which caused much damage in Guizhou."
Still, thousands of people in the Honghuagang District of downtown Zunyi spent the night in squares and open spaces. "We don't know what else we can do. We still haven't received any warning from the local government," said Liu Yong, a citizen, at 1:20 am on Tuesday.
Several thousand aftershocks have jolted Wenchuan since last Monday's devastating quake. But rescuers are still going all-out to search for survivors.
The latest survivor, Ma Yuanjiang, was saved at around 00:50 am on Tuesday in Wenchuan. He had been trapped for nearly 179 hours.
(Xinhua News Agency May 20, 2008)