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Andrea Hsu

Meeting Survivors on the Road

Local people of the village of Gui Xi (g-way she) huddle under tarps either because their homes have been damaged, destroyed or they fear structural damage when after shocks occur. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

Melissa Block and I have just returned from a trip northwards, toward Beichuan County, where there are reports of thousands dead and 80 percent of buildings toppled. We got as far as the village of Ganxi, which we reached after traveling into a mountainous area that looks beautifully serene, until you see the devastation — collapsed homes, huge boulders in the road, and families, on foot and in buses, emerging from some of the areas hardest hit by yesterday's earthquake.

Boulders shaken loose by the Sichuan earthquake damaged structures through the province. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

The first person I spoke to was 14-year-old Zheng Mingzhong, who was balancing himself with a bamboo pole as he stood on one foot, his other foot swollen and blistered. When we approached him, he immediately broke into tears.

He was at home when the earthquake hit yesterday, when bricks came tumbling down. His father was away — at work at a coal mine in the mountains, and his two older brothers were away too, doing work in cities, the oldest one in Shanghai. He has not had contact with them.

Cars have to navigate around debris on an already narrow road. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

His mother died before he was four years old. He went to his grandmother's, and together, the two of them walked 3 or 4 hours, he thinks, to a town where he spent the night. Then this morning, he got on a motorcycle to Ganxi, where he hoped to find medical help. He did, from a local village doctor, who diagnosed him with a fracture.

We also spoke to 36-year-old Zhao Rong, who had walked 30 kilometers with four children — two of them hers, two others the children of a relative and a friend. She comes from the town of Chen Jiaba in Beichuan County, where she said everything was toppled. She believes that as many as one third of the 15,000 residents in her town may have perished. She said they had moved into the town so that their children could have a better education, and now, they've lost everything. She told us, we don't know where we're going, we'll just try to find a place to stop ... at this point, we're just trying to survive.

Gui Xi (g-way she) straddles a river on either side of a picturesque footbridge. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

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Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

We've heard that yesterday, officials here did not realize the extent of the devastation in Beichuan County, which lies east of the epicenter, as much as 90 or 100 kilometers. But as we drove back to Chengdu, we passed many, many convoys of soldiers and what looked to be rescue supplies headed northwards.

We also heard that helicopter drops are planned.

Robert Siegel, producer Art Silverman, and our interpreter Xie Xiaoyu pushed about five kilometers further toward Beichuan County. They reached the village of Gui Xi (g-way she)

The magnitude of this disaster is overwhelming. I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering that is taking place as I type this. We hope to push further out tomorrow — though we also want to be able to come back to Chengdu to file our stories — so that you can hear these people's stories, in their own voices.

— Andrea Hsu

Listen to the story:

5/13/08 Morning Edition