People in Mianyang, Sichuan Province, have become accustomed to gathering in the middle of the road after anything unusual, hoping to improve their chance of survival in case of a major aftershock.
So far, 7,000-strong aftershocks have hit southwest China since last Monday's 8.0-magnitude earthquake.
A forecast of a strong aftershock in Sichuan Province late on Monday prompted panic among the local residents as well as in the neighboring Chongqing Municipality and Guizhou Province.
STRONG AFTERSHOCK FORECAST
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.
However, the aftershock was forecast to only rock the Longmenshan fault zone that includes the worst quake-hit regions of Lixian, Wenchuan, Maoxian, Beichuan, Pingwu and Qingchuan, while Chengdu and other regions were unlikely to suffer major damages, said Cheng Wanzheng, a research fellow with the seismological bureau.
The aftershock warning came a week after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 40,000 people. The final death toll was expected to reach 50,000.
SOUTHWEST CHINA IN PANIC
The forecast, which was repeated via TV and radio in Sichuan, sent many citizens in the provincial capital 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.
Chengdu residents calmed down on Tuesday. Local people praised the government's sense of responsibility in publishing the aftershock forecast. Some, however, complained it had come "too late".
Residents of the outer districts and counties also fled home amid the quake scare.
The government of Mianyang, Sichuan, sent experts to inspect buildings and forbade people from returning to buildings that were labeled dangerous by the experts.
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.
Chongqing resident Shen Ping and her six-month baby stayed at a local park on Monday night. "I had not planned to take such a young baby out of home at midnight, however, my families insisted."
"We do not think our houses could collapse. We are here just in case. Tomorrow we will go to work," said another resident Hu Daxue.
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.
"We had to answer hundreds of phone inquiries from 10 p.m. 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."
The frog migration and that springs turned muddy were a result of last Monday's earthquake instead of signs for future quakes, said Cheng Fangzheng, research fellow with the Sichuan seismological bureau.
Still, thousands of people in the Honghuagang District of downtown Zunyi spent the night in squares and open spaces.
RESCUE GOES ON
Several thousand aftershocks have jolted Wenchuan since last Monday's devastating quake. But rescuers are still searching all-out for survivors.
The latest person to be rescued, Ma Yuanjiang, was saved just before 1 a.m. on Tuesday in Wenchuan. He had been trapped for nearly 179 hours.
His internal organs were in good condition, but his lower left arm had to be amputated, said doctors of the Chongqing Xinqiao Hospital, which is affiliated with the No. Three University of Medical Science of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
Ma was rushed to the hospital at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
Rescuers had reached all 1,044 quake-hit villages, which are under 134 townships in southwestern Sichuan Province, as of Tuesday evening, according to a military source.
(Xinhua News Agency May 20, 2008)