Aftershock Fears Create More Chaos in Chengdu

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Thousands flee their homes in Chengdu, China, seeking shelter elsewhere after broadcast reports raise fears of a major aftershock from the devastating earthquake. People who gathered at a local soccer stadium tell their stories.

BLOCK: As our listeners probably know by now, we were in Chengdu when the earthquake hit, because we had long been planning to bring you a week of broadcasts from this part of China, the southwestern part of country, and in particular Sichuan province, an area that's booming but gets little attention in Western media. And we'll still bring you those stories, though they've all taken on a new cast with this past week's disaster.

Now here's one example of just how raw nerves are one week later.

Okay, here we are at a huge stadium in downtown Chengdu, and all around me, as far as I can see, there are people sleeping on the ground. They have been flooding into this stadium with blankets and quilts and pillows and tents and mats. They're curled up on the grass, on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, because not long ago, earlier this evening, there was an announcement of some sort made on local TV and radio telling people that there was a powerful aftershock that could hit this area in the next couple of days and to take precautions, to be prepared. That was enough to send people streaming out of their homes by the thousands or tens of thousands, flooding this stadium. We've heard from our reporter Louisa Lim that people were in their cars trying to head out of the city in such numbers that the authorities blocked the roads. People are camped out here for the night as if this were the most normal thing to do. And we're going to go talk some of them.

Can we talk to you for a second?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

BLOCK: You are here in the middle of the night at the stadium. You have a mat on the ground and you've got blankets and pillows. Why are you here?

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: We are running away. We're trying to get away from this earthquake.

BLOCK: Earthquake. What earthquake?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: We don't know any details. We saw on TV and we decide we better be careful.

BLOCK: Was there any question for you that you would pack up your stuff and head to the stadium? Did you even consider staying in your house?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: Well, I thought about it, but I think I should believe what the government tells us.

BLOCK: You know, I'm looking around. I don't see anybody panicking. People are walking around with babies. Does this start to feel normal to you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: Perhaps. It's been a week now. We're sort of getting used to it.

BLOCK: Well, I hope you get some sleep.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you.

BLOCK: Thank you.

Okay, it's the middle of the night. We're walking around this stadium. There's a huge camping tent off to my right. People curled up in quilts, a lot of people sleeping. Earlier tonight we saw people playing cards, drinking beer, children running around playing. Now everybody's sleeping. And amazingly, people seem to be sleeping just fine even though there are bright lights in the parking lot, they're crowded in side by side.

There's a little boy, probably about four years old who's wide awake. His parents are fast asleep. The boy is sitting up, stretching, doesn't look at all tired. But you can just imagine how anxious people must be. An announcement comes on the television warning of an aftershock. There's apparently no scientific basis for that rumor.

Our reporters on our science desk assure us that there is no accurate way to predict aftershocks. But these people heard the announcement on television, grabbed enough things to keep them comfortable for the night. Thankfully, it's a warm night. It's not raining, as it has been much of the week. And they headed to the stadium, and here they are by the thousands.

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