Andrea Hsu

Fears of New Quake Scare Chengdu

crowd mourns
Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR

Earlier this evening, a couple of us wandered out to Tianfu Square, where the singing and chanting that began this afternoon was still going strong.

heart of candles
Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR
Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR

Crowds of mostly young people remained in the square, chanting "Go China! Sichuan! Stand up! Be strong!" They lit candles, sang the national anthem, and gathered around to sign a long white banner that read "Loved ones of the disaster area, safe journey."

Today was the first of three days of mourning for the victims of the May 12 earthquake. I imagine that this outpouring of emotion will continue well beyond this week.

When I left for Tianfu Square about 10:30 pm, the streets were dark and nearly silent. 45 minutes later, on my way back to the hotel, I saw lots and lots of people streaming out into the streets and towards the soccer stadium, which is right next to our hotel. They were carrying blankets, pillows, tents and umbrellas.

Turns out state media interrupted programming this evening to warn of a powerful aftershock that could come tonight or tomorrow. Whole families emerged from their homes, with enough belongings to sleep outdoors for the night.

Our reporter Louisa Lim was out elsewhere in the city and told us the roads were jammed and thousands of people were out in the streets.

people camping
Photo by Andrea Hsu, NPR

Meanwhile, NPR's Science Desk was reassuring us that there is absolutely no way that such a prediction could be made.

And sure enough, just now, as I sat watching TV in the lobby of our hotel, someone turned up the radio on a new announcement: no severe aftershock for Chengdu after all tonight — everyone go home.

My colleagues are out right now trying to make sense of what happened this evening. Whatever the case, I'm sure it's done nothing to calm the jitteriness that has engulfed this city.



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Thank you, NPR team, for all the touching reports!

However, something caught my attention this time. You said at the end that "NPR's science desk was reassuring us that there is absolutely no way that such prediction could be made." Unless I read it wrong, but doesn't that answer some people's "question" why the government didn't issue a warning of the earthquake?

So, I guess either way, the authority is damned. If it was not warned but happened, they need to be punished; if something was warned but turned out not happening, like the story in this report, they are also damned, because you are sure "it's done nothing to calm the jitteriness that has engulfed this city"?

Anyway, please do be careful and be safe over there. We need more reporters like you who are at least trying very hard to be objective and understanding...

Sent by Leo | 4:21 PM | 5-19-2008

My daughter arrived in Chengdu Sunday to attend college this summer. She called me Tuesday, 12:45 AM Chengdu time to tell me she was fine but she had been advised by the school to leave her apartment for safety. My daughter and her friends were very upset and all were trying to contact their parents to assure us they were safe.

Sent by Sherry Hipp | 4:23 PM | 5-19-2008

Couple days ago, during one of your report, the question as why people were not warned of this earthquake was raised. Today, you let us know, it helps nothing to calm the jitteriness that has engulfed this city.

Go figure.

Sent by Chloe Huang | 4:52 PM | 5-19-2008

When a tragic event happens a world away, to a society that's in many ways very different from one's own, it's all too easy to develop a sense of numbness or detachment.

You at NPR have done an excellent job to keep that from happening in the wake of the Chinese earthquake. You have done an excellent job of helping me feel as though the Sichuan people are my neighbors, to hear their humanity without our cultural differences getting in the way.

As for numbness, it's not there. You've kept me raw-I've cried every day as I listen to your heartfelt reports. As hard as it is to hear, I feel that it is vitally important that I listen and make that connection via your reports. As far away as I am, there's little I can personally do to help the people recovering from the earthquake, but at the very least, I can honor them and their experience by listening to their voices and stories. Thank you so, so much for making that possible in a way that goes beyond what I'm getting from any other news source.

Sent by Nina | 5:27 PM | 5-19-2008

Who said absolutely no such prediction can be made? US Geological Survey has a website predicting aftershocks in California for the next 24 hrs. Here is the website:

Sent by HL | 5:36 PM | 5-19-2008

A 5.0 aftershock centered not far from last week's epicenter was just reported at 01:52 am, May 20th, local time. My family in Chengdu ran out of the house...

Sent by Dan | 6:00 PM | 5-19-2008

Regarding the USGS quake forecast map, please take a minute actually look at the map, can you point to a/one place on the map and tell me that at this Lat/Lon location tomorrow there will be a 2.5 or whatever magnitude shock?

It is a "PROBABILITY" map! It does NOT give you a 100% "Yes" or "No"! Read this article when the USGS first came out The article said: "The researchers caution that the maps don't mean that we now know how to predict earthquakes, however. The new forecasts are based on the best available knowledge, but they cannot pin down exactly where and when a quake will happen any more than researchers could do before."

Also, we know there is a major earth quake due in the Bay Area, where I live now, and it's been talked about for years. Please, USGS, tell me what day exactly it will happen and how bad it's gonna be!!!

P.S. I have a M.S degree in Geography with quite a few courses in Geology. As far as I've learned, it is still impossible to "accurately" forecast earth quake. The best you can get is exactly the type of "Probabability" predication you see on the USGS website.

It would be great if NPR can have a expert pannel discussion on this subject. And when that happens, plesae ask them what day the next earth quake will happen in the San Andreas Fault or Hayward/Rodgers Creek section!

Related information:

Sent by Leo | 6:21 PM | 5-19-2008

I myself is in seismology. As far as I know, the only "prediction" we can do now is to predict how much chances (say, 20%) there will be earthquakes with some magnitude in some years. Generally this time range is in tens of years. There is no scientific ways to predict the earthquake as accurate as the weather forecast. Even though, seismologists try to link earthquakes with many observables, such as the anomaly in seismicity, stress/strain, gravity, water temperature, radioactivity, electromagnetics and animal activity. But no absolute relationship have been established. However, when you observed major anomalies for most of those observables, especially immediately after a mainshock, you'd better prepare for the worst, even though the resolution of the timing is really really poor. The local seismological bureau, where I have been working for 2 years, had been falsely accused for failing to warn the public. If they did observe some major anomalies. I guess they may choose to warn the public to avoid being target in near future.

Sent by C. Liang | 6:26 PM | 5-19-2008

Thank you for your first-hand stories. They are truly heart-touching, as echoed by other readers/listeners. I am overwhelmed and inspired every time. I look forward to more of your audio diary. Please be safe while collecting the great beauty of the human beings confronting the disaster.

Sent by Alex Zhang | 6:55 PM | 5-19-2008

I sat - once again - listening to an NPR story after arriving home. How many time have I done this these past twenty years and always been thankful for your reporting.

Tonight's coverage of the photographer with Melissa Block moved me way into tears.

Your coverage of this tragedy is brilliant and deeply moving. Thank you all.

Sent by Ken Williams | 7:38 PM | 5-19-2008

I am interested in sponsoring a child who is an earthquake victim. Does anyone know where I can find information about that?

Sent by OrangePanda | 8:24 PM | 5-19-2008

This earthquake is truely a tragic. And it is true there is no prediction can be made. Please tell me when the last earthquake was previously warned and prevented? The website HL provided was only for aftershocks, and it doesn't forcast the upcoming earthquake.
I think it is critical now for scientists to work on how to improve the technology so we can have better and more accruate earthquake forcast.
And it is time for us, all the NPR listener to help. please send your prayer to the people in Sichuan, and please go to to contribute to the people who are affected.
Thank you!

Sent by DZ | 8:35 PM | 5-19-2008

Thanks for finding this website, HL. However, if you read other sections of the same site, you would see "The background probability of MMI VI shaking in most of California is between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 100,000. By comparison, the average American's risk of being in a car accident in any 24 hours is about 1 in 2,500..." It's a probability game. I am not sure anyone knows for sure what to do with that number. Should we evacuate if we know the probability is 1/1000? Howe about 1/100?

Sent by NYCRealist | 9:08 PM | 5-19-2008

I am a Chengdu native who left my hometown for the US eighteen years ago. I am so grateful for NRP's great efforts for bringing quality news coverage of Chengdu and Sichuan to me everyday. I am defintely going to pledge more support this year for your great job.

Sent by shi li | 10:09 PM | 5-19-2008

The opening to this story was entrancing - the sirens, then the wails and, finally, the chanting. It moved me to tears as I recalled the unity we felt in the US after 9/11. I'm not a follower of communism, and I recognize the culture that starts a chant like, "Stand up, be strong", but I found it encouraging in the overwhelming atmosphere of the disaster. My husband felt differently - that the government are fully responsible for the shoddy buildings. I don't disagree, but I think the rally call they chanted is one of not giving up under the terrible circumstances. Thank you for putting me right in there with the rest of humanity.

Sent by Dana | 10:12 PM | 5-19-2008

Prediction of exactly this quake, exact place, but not time (well, not specific enough):

Sent by jj | 10:18 PM | 5-19-2008

When it comes to earthquake predictions, legends abound in China.

About 2,000 years ago a Chinese scientist named Chang Heng invented the world's first earthquake instrument. It was a bronze vessel surrounded by eight dragons, each holding a small ball in its mouth. Legend had it that a small ball would drop when there was an earthquake in the direction.

The Chinese did successfully predict the M7.3 Haicheng earthquake on February 4, 1975. The Chinese Seismological Bureau ordered an evacuation of a million people the day before the earthquake and this might have saved thousands of lives.
This correct prediction might be just by luck; but it was legendary.

This helps explain why many Chinese believe in earthquake predictions. Some Chinese bloggers blamed the government for failing to predict this earthquake; a few even suggested that the government knew the earthquake was coming but withheld the information because of the Olympics. This is of cause absurd.

Sent by Mike | 11:09 PM | 5-19-2008

just read Anthony Kuhn's report "Chinese Volunteers Set New Precedent" article, May 16, 2008 in npr online news report . In it he wrote:" ... While this sort of reaction may not be unusual in the West, China has little tradition of civil society." How insulting! This statement displays a great deal of his ignorance. He obviously doesn't know that, compared to "the West", China has the longest continuous civilization on earth - more than 5000 years. I am appalled to see that he even called the generosity, passion and caring of the Chinese people demonstrated in responding to last week's tragic natural disaster a "new precedent". I am wondering which planet Mr. Kuhn is living on and what his editor was doing before publishing it. My wife and I have been supporters of NPR for over 20 years. This article is making me rethink about how our money should be better spent. And at the same time, we are very disappointed that NPR has fallen to such a low level on such an important story.

--- Henry, San Deigo

(Anthony Kuhn responds: To those listeners who may have misunderstood my report, its main point was to suggest that Chinese people's response to the earthquake could have positive implications for the development of civil society in China. By civil society, I mean a stratum of non-governmental and non-profit organizations and citizen advocacy groups independent of state or family authority. Space for the development of civil society in China has previously been very limited, both under China's traditional, clan-based society, and more recently under the communist party's control over the power of organization.)

Sent by Henry chow | 11:36 PM | 5-19-2008

Anthony Kuhn's report is absolutely utrageous.
It is beyond me that he can write something he has obviously no knowledge of whatsoever.

Sent by cz | 12:51 AM | 5-20-2008

Henry: not sure whether this is the most appropriate forum for this... it's after all "Chengdu Diary" by Melissa, Robert, et al. I haven't seen Anthony Kuhn's story myself. Did his story have a comment page you can rant about?

That said, generally speaking, I feel that bigotry in this country takes the path of lowest resistance. The truth is there is NO Asian American who would get angry (and more importantly, the media attention that came with that angry rant) like Sharpton or Foxman. And that's my way of measuring whether any comment is bigoted against Asians: would this person get an angry phone call from Sharpton of Foxman if s/he made the same comment about blacks or jews?

America is a beautiful market place of ideas: you can tuned out CNN if you don't like Lou Dobbs or Jack Cafferty. (Exactly what I did, but who needs CNN if you have NPR?:)

Sent by Angry Asian Mensch | 1:57 AM | 5-20-2008

Hi Henry and CZ: I couldn't find the "outrageous" post by Kuhn you were referring to. The audio piece by Kuhn today didn't sound particularly judgmental: his point was Chinese people were used to look up to authority in the past (Emperors, CCP, etc) but learned to take care of each other to a new level in this tragedy.

I am holding my judgment on this one for now.

Sent by Angry Asian Mensch | 2:16 AM | 5-20-2008

I am living in Beijing finishing up nine months of teaching English at a private language school. Curiously enough I had planned to take a trip to Chengdu before returning to the United States. If there is any way that I can assist NPR, as a volunteer, please let me know. My Mandarin is not good, but I have worked as a radio producer with Wisconsin Public Radio. Thank you.
Lisa Nett

Sent by Lisa Nett | 2:32 AM | 5-20-2008

To OrangePanda: There maybe some information about sponsoring a child who is an earthquake victim

Life is so fragile and magnificent ...

Yes, as Robert said in his later report, we are finding comfort in community, in the devastating area, in Chendu, and in NPR blog.

Thanks! NPR.

Sent by Mei | 11:51 AM | 5-20-2008

I too have been moved to tears by the incredible reports I have read and listened to on a daily basis. I don't own a television so I depend on NPR for world news. Every evening when I get home I go directly to this site to see what's happening in Chengdu. This weekend I spent some time talking to my 11-year old niece about the recent disasters in China and Myanmar. She had no idea. Not one single teacher has talked about it at school. I relayed to her much of the information I learned from NPR and the two of us agreed that although we are limited as far as physical things we can do to help, it is indeed vital that we honor the survivors and victims by reading and listening to their stories. I definitely feel I have a renewed perspective on life in general. Thanks, NPR.

Sent by J. Anderson | 11:07 PM | 5-21-2008

Thank NPR staff for their incredible reporting, as always. Anthony Kuhn's comments on Chinese civil society are absolutely right! I'm currently doing my dissertation on this topic now.

Sent by Ben | 8:43 AM | 5-23-2008

I have waited until the end of NPR's special program from Chengdu to express my appreciation of your impeccable journalism and profound humanity as you covered the earthquake. I hope that the quiver in Melissa Block's voice as she reported in front of the ruins of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan---and the story of the water bottle that Robert Siegel tried to offer to one of the victims of the earthquake---can convince some of the patriotic youths in China that, above and beyond nationalism, there can be something more beautiful and enduring. I am an ethnic Chinese, and I believe that even Mencius, who had written about the spark of humanity as one reacts to a child about to fall into a well, would agree that these friends from afar were as humane as any fellow Chinese can be.

I have been listening to NPR for more than a decade. Robert Siegel, and more recently Melissa Block, have always been a part of my life. Now they are even closer. Thank you.

Lian Xi

Sent by Lian, Xi | 6:51 PM | 5-25-2008

I believe Mr. Kuhn's report is right on the money. I have lived in China for eleven years and I have seen the same changes he reports about. In 2004-2005 I donated 500RMB(about 80USD)to the local Red Cross in Haikou. This was in response to the Asian Earthquake/Tsunami. I noticed that most of the money in their donation box was mostly small change -- anywhere from 1 fen to 20 yuan bills. But I don't think the two volunteers were expecting a single person to give 500 RMB at one time! Fast foward to 2008. I'm now in Xi'an and I donated the same amount to the Xi'an Red Cross. I was well received by a chorus of volunteers who all sang "thank you" and bowed. Xie Xie Mr. Kuhn for your accurate reporting! And please stay safe!

Sent by Jada | 6:13 AM | 5-26-2008

I forgot to add that this time around I also saw a lot of red yuan bills in the volunteers donation boxes. I also saw the same at a local church in Xi'an.

Sent by Jada | 4:35 AM | 5-27-2008