Robert Siegel

Driving Toward Destruction

We came here for a long-planned week of programming about Chengdu and the challenges of daily life in today's China. The earthquake, of course, made us change plans. Yesterday, with Xiaoyu Xie, our Chengdu-born pianist who serves as our interpreter, and Art Silverman, my producer, I went toward the places that were most damaged by the earthquake, in the mountains northeast of Chengdu.

After about a hundred miles the expressway runs out, and you take a two-lane switchback road of hairpin turns, a road cut out of the rocky face of the mountainside.

On the steep mountain slopes above, there are narrow terraced fields where the people of these parts have planted crops for centuries. Every couple of hundred yards or less, the two lanes squeeze into one, and the cars and trucks negotiate the rocks on the road.

Some of the rocks are only the size of the baseballs - they probably fell from a crumbling section of the retaining wall that's supposed to keep the mountain on one side and the road on the other. Others are boulders the size of SUVs. They came crashing down the mountainside during the earthquake.

Sometimes, landing squarely on a house.

Sometimes leaving a huge pockmark on the mountain, or a descending scar of exposed earth.

In Sichuan, after the earthquake, some are dead and some are grieving. Many are injured, hungry or homeless, and many have homes in need of expensive repair.

And millions are left anxious by their brush this week with the violent, destructive power of the earth beneath their feet,

— Robert Siegel

Related story:

All Things Considered — May 13, 2008



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Thank you for your report. My heart goes to those people. I'm constantly checking your blog and I wish you can send us more first-hand reports.

Sent by Xuebing | 12:15 AM | 5-14-2008

Some other photos, including a heartbreaking photo of perished children.

Sent by Jialing | 12:56 AM | 5-14-2008

I am from Chengdu. Thanks for your report and all the kind words from this blog. I will always remember your kindness and warm hearts!

Most of my relatives and friends in Chengdu actually stayed at home since Tuesday night even though they all felt a strong aftershock Tuesday afternoon. It was a great relief to know that my family, relatives and friends in Chengdu are all doing OK.

But I was costantly in tears today when I saw the photos of people suffering in those hard-hit areas like Wenchuan, Beichuan, and Dujiangyan.

Here is a link with lots of photos taken in the aftermath of the arthquake:;_ylt=AhW2zESQEQWwD_K1Z6GlXx_9xg8F#photoViewer=/080514/ids_photos_wl/r2497104761.jpg

Yet I am so proud of my fellow Chengdu people for their compassion showed through this tragic time, lots of people had volunteered to donate blood since Monday night, and people are helping each other and eager to help with the rescue effort.

And I am so impressed with the quick rescue work this time. The soldiers hiked over landslide-blocked roads on foot through a steady rain in the night, reached the epicenter of the devastating earthquake Tuesday, searching the wrecked town and pulling bodies and survivors from collapsed buildings. It's a true rescue effort that the rescuers are risking their own lives and fighting every second to save lives.

2:30am EST this morning (May 14th) will be the 48 hour mark past the start of the earthquake. At this trying time, I hope everyone here pray for the people in China, pray for the rescue efforts to succeed, pray that the people who lost their loved ones are comforted, pray for the safety of everyone there - regardless of your beliefs.

Let's use the power we have to light their time of darkness and despair.

If you would like to make a donation for the ongoing rescue efforts and suffering people,one quick and direct way that make sure your donation goes to the earthquake rescue effort is to donate through this website by China red cross which I used:

Many charities and non-profit orgnations in Northe Americaare open to donation for China earthquake. You can find more information in your charity group:

Red Cross in Canada:
You will be able to designate your donation to China earthquake using the
fund designation box

or MercyCorps USA:

Your generosity could mean life to those in desperate need. Every penny will help! Five dollars alone could provide a homeless kid with a blanket from the cold night.

Thanks for your compassion!

Sent by yang | 1:39 AM | 5-14-2008

Thanks for the stories, Mr. Siegel, and please take measured precautions, as traveling in some areas can still be very dangerous. Please find out whether some of the schools were poorly built and whether that contributed to the loss of young lives if you could. Thanks again for you and your colleagues there.

Sent by Matthew | 1:54 AM | 5-14-2008

Thank you for the continuning reporting. I am anxious to get more information from your blog.

Sent by Ling | 2:00 AM | 5-14-2008

As Robert Siegel began his report from China this evening, a chill came over my body: I was listening to a reporter at the top of his craft. But what moved me even more was the compassion of Mr. Siegel's voice as he conversed with the grieving Chinese residents of Gui Xi. I never realized that radio could be so powerful. Thank you, Robert and all of you at NPR.

Sent by Luis A. Montero | 2:54 AM | 5-14-2008

my friends and I were in Qingcheng mountain(next to dujianyan and near Chengdu-trapped with our motorbikes-24 hours-no food -no help-no meds-no water-and could film it...check out my video on youtube

Sent by john | 6:14 AM | 5-14-2008

My 20 year old daughter will be traveling to Chengdu for her second summer attending college. She as spoken to American friends living in the city and they said they feel safe and encouraged her to return to Chengdu, I am very concerned for her safety. Any comments/suggestions/recommendations?

Sent by sherry hipp | 10:01 AM | 5-14-2008

I listened to your whole story on NPR at 6pm yesterday. I was deeply moved by your report, Robert. Your skill of describing the catastrophe is so impressive. Thank you so much for your braveness and your professional excellence.

Sent by Charls Shen | 10:19 AM | 5-14-2008

Dear Melissa Block and Bob Segal, thank you for extremely moving coverage. I look at this from two perspectives: My father, Gerald Winfield, evacuated to Chengdu in 1940 during the Japanese time from Cheeloo University in Jinan, Shandong, shortly after my mother, sister and I were evacuated to the United States. So we grew up with a knowlege of this place and the fact that our father lived in a house where the two pandas that were sent to the Bronx zoo lived as newborns. More to the point, I have spent the last three years working on tsunami relief and reconstruction in Aceh, Indoneisa, having arrived there about two months after the earthquake and tsunami. I am consequently extremely touched by the balance you are achieving between the deeply personal nature of what you are experiencing and the way you tell the story. It is personally so hard to talk with people who are "the only one in my family left" or to find by stumbling into it that a friend has lost all his children. And yet what an enormous privilige to be let into that world of loss married to human capacity for survival and dignity and to make it real to others. You do it so well. Before I went to Aceh the first time and was worried about how to even approach it so as not to be a disaster voyeur or be overwhelmed by the enormity of the destruction and loss, a friend who was already work there advised: Look at it because you need to know, but think of it in terms of what you can do to help in the recovery." You are helping in that recovery by all of your remarkable story telling. thank you.

Sent by Margaret Sullivan | 9:40 PM | 5-19-2008

Thanks for you all concerned about this!Our fellow Sichuan Chinese will stand up soon!

Sent by Joe | 11:56 PM | 5-19-2008


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