/ 20 May 2008

Aftershock terrifies China quake survivors

Thousands of terrified survivors of China’s earthquake huddled in the open with their meagre belongings on Tuesday as an aftershock struck and the government warned of more powerful ones to come.

Amid desperate efforts to reach nearly five million people left homeless by the killer May 12 quake, many people who still had their houses ran out after an official warning overnight of a strong aftershock.

The panic, which reportedly gripped a vast area, came as China entered its second day of official mourning over the quake, which provincial authorities say left more than 71 000 people dead, missing or buried under rubble.

“I slept in my car and my family slept in a tent. Those who had tents slept in them and those with cars slept in them,” said Cheng Wenjun in Chengdu, the capital of worst-hit Sichuan province in south-west China.

Through the night, Chengdu residents carried out bedding, chairs, clothes and other possessions as they sought the safety of open ground.

Giant traffic jams developed as drivers headed toward the suburbs or open spaces such as parks, construction sites and stadiums. On one street, a huge line snaked out of a store selling camping gear.

Residents said state television relayed a warning, quoting seismological authorities, that a strong aftershock was set to rattle the region.

“There is a heightened possibility of an aftershock of between six and seven magnitude on May 19 and 20 in the region of the Wenchuan 8-magnitude quake,” a statement on the provincial government’s website said.

An official who answered the China Earthquake Administration’s general inquiries phone number would not confirm the warning, but said to follow the advice of the Sichuan government.

Shortly after the warning was issued, a tremor measuring five on the Richter scale rattled Pingwu county, about 125km north of Wenchuan county, which was the epicentre of last week’s devastating quake, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

More than 150 aftershocks measuring at least four on the Richter scale have shaken south-western China since the initial disaster.

At least three people were killed and 50 injured in a strong aftershock on Sunday, according to a local official.

There have also been false alarms. China’s seismological authority was last week forced to deny rumours that it had warned that a strong earthquake would strike Beijing.

Search for survivors

More than one week after the disaster, relief workers kept up their search for survivors as hopes of survival dwindled.

Rescue workers on Tuesday saved a man, Ma Yuan Jiang, who had spent an amazing 179 hours under rubble, according to state media.

Workers spent more than 30 hours trying to dig the 31-year-old power-plant executive out of the rubble of a destroyed building, during which they fed him sugary water through a straw, Xinhua said.

Such improbable survival stories have inspired many Chinese, who on Monday came to an unprecedented three-minute standstill to honour the victims of the earthquake.

Despite an outpouring of volunteers and donations, doctors are working round-the-clock to treat the more than 245 000 people who suffered physical injuries. Many more people are expected to need psychological care.

“Whenever I’m caught up in my work, I’ll naturally stop weeping and bury myself in what I must finish,” said Huang Qiong, a surgeon who has completed 100 operations at a hospital in the badly hit town of Mianyang.

“But when I go back home and lie down on my bed, I just cannot help shedding tears,” she said, quoted by the state-run China Daily. — AFP