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A day in quake-hit Beichuan

Img_4801 Monday was a blistering hot day in Sichuan Province, and at 2:28 p.m. I was standing under a shade tree in the ruined town of Beichuan.

There were maybe 150 of us gathered near a collapsed building where rescuers believed a still living person was trapped.

The group consisted of Chinese and foreign journalists, including the major television networks, medical workers, ambulance attendance, firefighters, and emergency relief personnel skilled in the use of devices like a pulse detector.

Img_4813Suddenly, the horns of vehicles parked nearby started to sound and I remembered that the nation was to come to a halt for three minutes to commemorate the tens of thousands of victims of the May 12 earthquake exactly one week after it occurred.

Soon, the ambulances began to sound their sirens as well. It was cacophonous. A line of relief workers stood at attention, their white helmets under their arms.

Then it was over. The relief workers went back to the task at hand, trying to pull another living person from the rubble.

Earlier in the day, police had handed a group of us surgical masks and ordered us to wear them as we looked through the town. In fact, they asked us to wear two, one over the other. I didn’t quite get the meaning of the masks. Certainly, the smell of death lingers over cities like Beichuan. But I don’t think the smell is toxic.

I walked up a slope of rubble trying to get a better view. But first I had to wait as relief workers came down, bringing body after body in bags slung from metal poles.

The smell of rotted flesh didn’t bother me as much as walking on the rubble. I kept thinking that I had no idea if anyone might still be alive under where I was walking, wishing for a helping hand.

The other thing that is hard to explain unless you are there is the impact of seeing the huge landslides that have ripped down the mountains, and the mammoth boulders lying everywhere. I can’t imagine being in the middle of a quake when such boulders are raining down from the slopes. There would be nowhere to hide. I looked at a culvert and thought it might have been safe. Then I realized it, too, could have been covered by a landslide and turned into a tomb for the living.

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Comments

Tim J

Muchas gracias, querido Chepito. La Tanya y yo te esperamos de nuevo en la China cuando puedas llegar de nuevo. Yo estoy de regreso a Pekin manana. Muchos abrazos, Tim

carry anne

I just wish I knew what each Chinese person was thinking for that three minutes of silence, how interesting. I think it is nice to see the Chinese people thinking about people rather than money on such a large scale. I suppose some good has come from this horrible disaster.

I found some really neat stuff on a native American site about the earth, the animals and nature. I guess Buddhists aren't the only ones who think everything is connected.

Chepito

Tim,

Te mando un fuerte abrazo. Cuidate muchisimo por favor. Espero que regreses pronto a Beijing.
Estas en mis oraciones.
Cuidate y un abrazo,

Chepito

A B

Suffice to say they asked you to put on a mask, not a muzzle.

China has changed.

sunbin

the masks are usually (as in hospitals) to protect you from potential germs/epidemic/infectious disease.

we also see the enormous dust when a building falls (or less so, for mudslides) -- so it could also serve the purpose in case there is after-shock.

Eve

Perhaps the masks are to protect your lungs from toxics in the air originating from the materials the buildings were built of. Many 9/11 rescue workers now have respiratory illnesses. I commend you for standing with the victims of this disaster.

jeff

Thank you for being there. Please took a close look at the school building. I trust you more on reporting this than anyone else.

Stan

Look forward to more "on point" reporting now that you are on site..Take care of yourself.Keep up the good work

A B

Let us thank Tim for:

- risking the aftershocks and disease covering this event

- standing with the Chinese for the 3 minutes of silence

Be safe and don't take unnecessary risks, please.

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