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Emotional Aftershocks

Melissa Block

Emotional Aftershocks

Listen to Melissa Block's story
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Late Saturday night, when a potent aftershock jolted me out of bed, I thought about two 15-year-old boys I met on Thursday. Both were in Juyuan Middle School when the earthquake hit. That building was completely destroyed — with hundreds of children killed.

The boys I met were in the lucky minority of survivors.

Bei Chuan buildings

Juyuan middle school students Wei Bo (left) and Huang Zhihui (right), both 15, and both survivors of the May 12 earthquake. Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR

Huang Zhihui has a beautiful face, and soft eyes. When his school building started to shake, he followed his history teacher's orders to run. He had just made it to the playground when the school collapsed behind him.

His friend Wei Bo was in politics class. His teacher told the students to stay in their seats and keep calm. Wei was buried in the rubble but managed to claw his way out after 20 minutes, with just a scrape on his back.

He also helped save a friend.

His teacher was crushed, and killed.


When I asked the boys how they're doing now, Wei told me, "Every time there's an aftershock, I feel scared in my heart."His friend chimes in, "I don't dare go indoors. If I do, I'm haunted by fear."

Bei Chuan buildings

All that's left of the middle school building is the staircase, which remains standing. Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR

No one is staying inside. Even if houses remain standing, people are sleeping outdoors.
And the aftershocks continue to rumble through with a regularity that makes your stomach lurch.

If they're this strong here in Chengdu, I can only imagine how terrifying they are closer to the epicenter. In battered cities around an earthquake zone, I've seen tiny signs of survivors trying to establish normalcy amid the chaos. Just steps away from excavators carting away the remains of a collapsed building in Dujiangyan, I spotted shoelaces hanging from a makeshift clothesline. The residents from that building are living under a tarp on the median of their street. The air is full of dust. But they had carefully draped shoelaces on that line to dry.


I haven't begun to process the scale of this disaster. On Wednesday, I spent a long day with a mother and father as they watched heavy machinery dig through the rubble of their apartment building. I was there with them when they learned their only child had been found dead — a boy, not quite two years old, killed with his grandparents. The sound of their utter anguish echoes constantly in my mind.

And yet, there continue to be stories of daring rescue — of impossible survival — even now, after six days.

I keep looking at a photo on the Xinhua news agency Web site.

It shows a soldier gently cradling a round-cheeked tiny bundle of an infant. The baby is sleeping peacefully, without even a scratch. The baby is about three months old, wearing a quilted green vest and soft shoes, wrapped in a blanket.

Xinhua says the baby was found on Tuesday in the wreckage of a building in Beichuan .
The mother was found kneeling above her child in protection.

She did not survive. But she saved her baby.

And, according to Xinhua, in a story that just defies belief, but that you hope is true, the rescue workers also found a cell phone. The mother had tucked it into her baby's blanket. She had typed a text message on the screen. The message said, "My dear, if you can survive, please remember I love you."



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Melissa, my wife and I listened several times of the story of a father and a mother try to find their 2 years old son. We were in the tears every times. We sent the story to a friend of ours in Chengdu. It is such a sad and beautiful story for all of us. Thank you Melissa for your wonderful reporting.

Sent by Tim R. | 9:56 PM | 5-18-2008

"3 minutes silence & air sirens to be sounded in China at 2.28pm Beijing time on Monday 19th May 2008 (0628 GMT)"

Sent by Song Qiuying | 10:09 PM | 5-18-2008

Ms. Melissa. You are one courageous woman - not only to stay and bear witness, not only to report what you're seeing without edit, but to open your heart and soul and bare it to us while reporting on that couple and their tragedy - my heart ached for them, and also for you. They will have grieving to do - you will too, and remember to let that happen. Your poignant words of not even beginning to process it all are telling - don't forget to grieve. Thank you for your courage, for the story that has moved me so.

Sent by Sarah Pressly-James | 10:52 PM | 5-18-2008

I just finished a telephone conversation with my Father, who is in Chongqing, and the conversation moved me to ask this question of the NPR Chengdu team. I have been talking with family and friends in Chongqing and I am surprised by their disappointment toward Americans regarding the American assistance for the earthquake relief effort. In China, the media reports that the US has provided about $500,000 in earthquake relief contributions. The impression of the people I have spoken with is that this figure represents the total of contributions from the USA, although this is actually just the government monetary contribution. Granted, that government contribution looks paltry against contributions from other countries, such as the from the UK or from Saudi Arabia, but this does not include the generous contributions from US corporations or US people. Perhaps this is a different cultural expectation, as a Chinese person might expect the government to provide the primary contribution while the USA sees this as a responsibility of civil society. Perhaps this is a failing of the Chinese media to report a total amount provided by each country instead of only reporting contributions directly from governments. Nevertheless, somehow the overall generosity of the Americans toward the relief efforts is not being communicated to those people to whom I have been speaking. Do those of you in the NPR team in Chengdu have a similar impression, that the real contributions from America are not being effectively communicated by the media in China to the Chinese people?

Sent by Hong | 11:10 PM | 5-18-2008

The image a dying mother in the wreckage typing out her final words in a text message on her cell phone and giving it to her baby rocked me back on my heels this morning and I leaned against the wall and cried. Thank you, Melissa Block, for your remarkable skill in making this unimaginable tragedy more real for all of us on the other side of the World.

Sent by GMF | 11:20 PM | 5-18-2008

My dear, if you survive
please remember today
the blue sky
the bright sunshine
and that fading away dragonfly

Remember the rainbow over Dujiang
the breeze from Beichuan mountains
and the folks who did not survive

My dear, if you survive
please do not cry
remember your mother's love
and her smile

Sent by Mike | 11:20 PM | 5-18-2008

Thanks for the touching stories.
Millions of the surviving earthquake victims are crying for the demolished homes, killed relatives, and permanent physical and mental injuries. A real story about them and true reports about the great efforts of Chinese and international soecieties are not only a responsibity of a true journalist, but also give our ill society a soul chiken soap of love.

Sent by Carlo | 12:03 AM | 5-19-2008

My heart is with people there -- beautiful mountains and rivers there were, naive and hard working folks. Now there are huge suffers. Thank you to take risks to be there and report news to outside world. Most of what you said are true, however I believe you should really take more time to learn the people, the culture and the changes there, so that these diary can not only be popular in American but be truthful to Chinese.

BTW: the domestic donation the earthquake reached 75 billion Yuan (~$1 billion) now.

Sent by Dan | 12:06 AM | 5-19-2008

Melissa, I was listening to your first conversation with Michelle after the quake, with your tape recorder running you told us about the moment of the quake hit and then sight of all those children and parents at the school but it wasn't until you began to become emotional and somehow managed to put the emotion in check that I became emotional also. Your humanity, your clear-eyed reporting, AND the emotion were so deeply moving and haunt me every time I hear the news or speak with friends still trying to reach family members. When the numbers of the dead are too large to grasp it is the sound of your voice, shaken and determined that gives voice to our collective heartbreak reaching for some understanding. Thank you!

Sent by Raul | 12:13 AM | 5-19-2008

Melissa, I am anxious to know how the survivors are doing: are they being evacuated to a safer area? With help from the rescuers or do so on their own? Or they are told to stay? If so, have they received enough supplies? Are there clusters of disater areas based on the severity of damage? Are they being treated differently? If so, how? Are the tents, medicine coming fast enough to areas where people need them most? If, as a reporter, you want to find out about other areas that you can't reach, who do you get it from? Is there a central info center?

Sent by Bing | 1:01 AM | 5-19-2008

I, too, want to thank Melissa Block and all the NPR/ATC staff who have provided such excellent and moving coverage of the earthquake in Sichuan province. My heart is breaking at the loss, pain and suffering of the Chinese people. At times like this, sometimes all we can do is listen and bear witness to this suffering and communicate our deep caring. Thank you, NPR for helping us all to be connected.

Sent by nsh | 1:03 AM | 5-19-2008

Just heard about the latest updates from NPR that a landslide in Beichuan buried 200 rescue workers. God bless everyone working in the area. Do take good care of yourselves, Melissa and crew. Hope the rebuilding efforts will start soon, and the local people will be able to find jobs and restart their life. I am confident that the new buildings will be sturdy. Lessons learned, through blood and tears.

Sent by Liao | 10:19 AM | 5-19-2008

As the three days of national mourning is going on, there are many tears and moving stories. Thanks again, Melissa and crew, for your great report. And I also pray for your safety and grief.

Chinese netters have been suggesting to have the national days of mourning after the quake, and the government listened this time. For the first time in Chinese history, people all over the country mourn for the loss of common people. I think it's very significant. I have changed the background of my Chinese blog ( to the mourning theme as millions of other Chinese bloggers do.

Sent by jidian | 11:13 AM | 5-19-2008

Oh, I can not hold my tears. "My dear, if you can survive, please remember I love you."

Sent by kennis | 11:41 AM | 5-19-2008

The last bit does defy belief. But that is not important. The love of a mother is beyond any words. Also, to Hong, I think the figure of donation is not important either. As you say, govrenments function differently. We appreciate any sincere assistance, be it money, materials, or a word of prayer. Please forward the kindness and compassion of Amerecan people, like Mellisa and the crew and many commenters on this blog, to your family and friends.

Sent by Melody | 12:38 PM | 5-19-2008

Melissa: Thank you for your touching story. Your voice connects me to the people affected by the disaster. I admire your courage and I pray for your safety. Please take good care of yourself.

Sent by hhs | 12:41 PM | 5-19-2008

Nature may be cruel, but the best we can do is less man-made atrocities.

Let's hope more human hearts can be touched by love.

Thanks again. Melissa.

Sent by Alan Wang | 2:03 PM | 5-19-2008

Terrible, painful, beautiful, and haunting story. I heard it on the radio, but it seems like there's a problem with the link if you don't have RealOne.

Sent by yicheng | 2:39 PM | 5-19-2008

Melissa, Thank you very much for your faithful reporting.

Sent by xl | 3:14 PM | 5-19-2008

It is not important if someone really read the message on the cell phone. But we believe without any double that the same message was imprinted in every heart and soul!

Thanks for the great store and reporting.

Sent by AC | 4:36 PM | 5-20-2008

Just want to say thank you again Melissa for sharing such touching story. I just can't hold back my tears. Stay safe.

Sent by JY | 2:51 PM | 5-21-2008

I cried as well.... What an awful tragedy... Thank you Melissa...

Sent by blueNomad in Shanghai | 1:29 AM | 5-22-2008

I want to thank Melissa Block and all the NPR staffs who have provided such excellent coverage of the earthquake. Stay safe.

Sent by John | 4:08 PM | 5-22-2008


Though I have read the story of the mother's last message many times in Chinese, I can not bear my tear when reading your report in English.

Sent by Xiaodong | 8:20 PM | 6-5-2008