Quake Victims Fill Chinese Hospital

The scene at one hospital in Sichuan Province offers a glimpse at the human toll of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck 60 miles northwest of the provincial capital of Chengdu.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

Nearly 9,000 people are feared dead in China today. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit in mid-afternoon local time. It flattened buildings and sent people in Sichuan province racing into the streets, among them my co-hosts Robert Siegel and Melissa Block. They've been in the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, preparing for special broadcasts we had planned for next week.

After the quake, they headed northwest toward the heaviest damage. Robert Siegel sent us this story of the sight at a hospital that was destroyed.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The city of Dujiangyan is a scenic place in normal times. It's a scene of a famous historic irrigation project thousands of years old. And it's this town, about 45 miles northwest of Chengdu, the big city that's the capital of Sichuan Province, it's one of the towns that was hit very hard by the earthquake. There was a collapse of a roof in a school building. And then in the center of town the hospital collapsed with, we're told, about a hundred people inside.

(Soundbite of P.A. system)

SIEGEL: Well, we're looking in from the street at the grounds of the hospital; there's obviously been a terrible collapse, and there now cranes in there trying to haul out some of the debris. We don't how many people are trapped inside the hospital, and you can see an enormous degree of damage inside. Let's see if some of the people who were looking at it with us know anything about what happened.

Unidentified Man #1: His sister works in the hospital.

SIEGEL: Was she inside the hospital when the earthquake struck?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: She actually was in there. Yes.

SIEGEL: Did she get out?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: No, we don't know what happened to her.

SIEGEL: Are the crews working quickly to try to rescue people?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: He thinks they are doing their best, but because the local conditions, and it's very specific what the condition - maybe just to get there, geographically, just to get in there, get the machinery in there, it's limited. Therefore under the circumstances he thinks they're doing very well.

SIEGEL: About a mile or less away from the hospital, in the center of Dujiangyan, there was a Red Cross station, tents that have been set up and medics trying to erect yet another tent to house the injured before ambulances can come and take them to hospitals in the region.

Seems that an ambulance has arrived and they've brought a gurney out and they're going to take somebody from the makeshift hospital - a child who appears to be hurt and is being carried by soldiers. We road through the city of Chengdu north to Dujiangyan earlier today, and all the way what you could see were people sitting out of doors, in front of their homes, in front of the apartment houses where they live.

There's some real concern that there could be an aftershock and it could cause further damage. So here in Dujiangyan, which already did suffer a great deal of damage, people of course are also sitting out of doors. Even as it's drizzling. They have their umbrellas out. And we talk to some of this people and asked them why.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking Chinese)

SIEGEL: Oh my, are you going to spend the whole night out here?

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: They said that they are here until tomorrow, tonight and tomorrow. And they say way over there a lot of houses have collapsed.

SIGEL: Did your houses collapse today?

Unidentified Group: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: Our houses are fine but they were cracked, and there's some damages. And as they said, if our house collapsed we wouldn't be here. We'd be buried.

SIEGEL: Here - here we should explain is under a trellis which is supported by some trees, and it's really a makeshift shelter, kind of a lean-to in front of the buildings right near the curb. And what if it really starts raining? What if it starts raining harder than it is now?

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: We have umbrellas. We have no other choices.

SIEGEL: Sometime in the coming days, this town and others that were hit by the earthquake will have to deal with some of the damage to infrastructure. Here there's no electricity, there's no running water, there's no gas. But for now the most important problem here is finding as many of those people as possible who might be trapped under the rubble of the hospital.

Robert Siegel, NPR News, in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, China.

NORRIS: And you can find photographs and more eyewitness accounts at our blog. That's npr.org/chinadiary.

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Thousands Feared Dead as Earthquake Hits China

A Quake's Arrival

Melissa Block was in the process of recording an interview when Monday's earthquake hit. She then fled the building and reported on the scene in the city's streets.

The sound of the earthquake in progress, recorded by Melissa Block

Later, she headed to the scene of a collapsed middle school where children had been pulled from the rubble.

Map of the earthquake's reach i i

hide captionMap of the earthquake's reach.

Alice Kreit/NPR
Map of the earthquake's reach

The earthquake was felt as far away as Laos and Vietnam.

Alice Kreit/NPR

A Look at Chengdu

Residents fled buildings for the sidewalks of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. i i

hide captionResidents fled buildings for the sidewalks of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

Andrea Hsu/NPR
Residents fled buildings for the sidewalks of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

Residents fled buildings for the sidewalks of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

Relief efforts were underway Tuesday, a day after a powerful earthquake struck central China, killing as many as 12,000 people, officials said.

The magnitude 7.9 quake was felt as far away as Vietnam and Thailand. It appears to be the most devastating earthquake to hit China in more than three decades.

At a news conference Tuesday, China's disaster response director, Wang Zhengyao, said that 11,921 people have died so far from the quake centered in Sichuan province. The death toll from the quake is expected to rise even higher, with state media saying thousands are still trapped in collapsed buildings.

Approximately 80 percent of the buildings in Sichuan's Beichuan County were flattened in the quake, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday. A chemical plant in Shifang city also was destroyed, burying hundreds of people and spilling tons of toxic liquid ammonia.

Outside the city of Dujiangyan, at least 50 students were killed and 900 trapped after the three-story Juyuan Middle School collapsed. Buried teenagers could be seen struggling to break loose from under the rubble of the three-story building, while others cried out for help.

There were reports that army-led rescue workers had difficulty accessing the disaster area and were hampered by a lack of equipment. But large cranes outfitted with lights operated into the night to lift massive slabs of masonry, said NPR's Melissa Block, who was at the scene. Ambulances ferried away the survivors.

Dozens of bodies of children were laid out on the ground, waiting for parents to identify them, Block said. Once claimed, the bodies were wrapped in shrouds and brought under plastic tarps. Hundreds of parents waited for hours in the rain for word of their children.

Parents built makeshift shrines and placed the bodies of the dead on pieces of cardboard or plywood as they grieved over the small lifeless forms. Some lighted red candles or burned paper money to send children into the afterlife. Others set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. The grim ritual played out by dozens and dozens of families as they kept watch over their babies one last time.

Students also were buried under five other toppled schools in Deyang city.

The earthquake struck in the middle of the day, around 2:28 p.m. local time. People flooded into the streets as the ground shook, and many were trapped in collapsed buildings.

One man said he felt the road start to buckle when the earthquake began.

"The road started swaying as I was driving. Rocks fell from the mountains, with dust darkening the sky over the valley," a driver for Sichuan's seismological bureau told Xinhua.

Two girls were quoted as saying they escaped because they had "run faster than others."

In Dujiangyan, 45 miles north of Chengdu, a hospital collapsed with an estimated 100 people, NPR's Robert Siegel reported. Crane crews worked to rescue those trapped. Tents at a Red Cross center were set up to tend to the wounded as they waited for ambulances to take them to other hospitals.

The earthquake crashed telephone networks in Chengdu and plunged parts of the city of 11 million into darkness. Residents slept outside in cars or fled to the suburbs — far from the city's high rises — as more than 300 aftershocks rattled the area throughout the day, according to state-run media.

The devastation comes as China is preparing to host the Olympic Games, which begin in Beijing on Aug. 8.

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