NOAH ADAMS, Host:
And I'm Noah Adams helping out here for a few days this week while our program's other hosts are in China.
And in China, rain is falling in Sichuan province, falling on thousands of people camped along roads or in makeshift shelters. The Chinese estimate the death toll from yesterday's earthquake at 12,000. There are fears that tens of thousand more are buried under collapsed buildings. And today, the rain blocked efforts to find survivors.
Our co-hosts, Robert Siegel and Melissa Block, are in Chengdu, that's Sichuan's capital city. When the earthquake hit, they were prepping for a long- planned series of stories from China. Today, Robert drove towards some of the hardest-hit areas, into the mountains northeast of Chengdu.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORN)
ROBERT SIEGEL: About a hundred miles from this provincial capital, the expressway runs out and you take a two-lane, switchback road of hairpin turns, a road cut out of the rocky face of the mountainside. On the steep mountain slopes above, there are narrow, terraced fields where the people of these parts have planted crops for centuries. If you drive this road carefully, every hundred yards or so the two lanes squeeze into one as cars and trucks negotiate the rocks on the road.
Some of the rocks are only the size of baseballs. They probably fell from a crumbling section of the retaining walls that's supposed to keep the mountain on one side and the road on the other. Others are boulders the size of SUVs. They came crashing down the mountainside during the earthquake, sometimes landing squarely on a house, sometimes leaving a huge pockmark on the mountain or a descending scar of exposed earth.
The rockslides not only killed and destroyed, they have hindered relief by blocking portions of the road farther north. It rained all day today, and that didn't help either. The villages you pass through on this road are heartbreaking. Gui Xi straddles a river on either side of a picturesque foot bridge. Mr. Shu(ph) is the village leader.
(SOUNDBITE OF AN AMBULANCE)
SIEGEL: What's the situation here?
ADAMS: (Through translator) Our village is but - of houses that collapsed, were about 90 percent and with roads, with rockslides, and damage is very extensive.
SIEGEL: Were many lives lost during the earthquake?
ADAMS: (Through translator) Yes, unfortunately. Just in our township, the initial estimation is about 200 to 300 - 300 people lost their lives.
SIEGEL: We've seen evidence of the rockslides all along this road. Has it been the rocks coming down from the mountain that have done much of the damage?
ADAMS: (Through translator) The rockslide is a part of the problem. But the worst of all, the entire side of mountain just collapsed, they come down.
SIEGEL: Do people here have water, food, medical attention?
ADAMS: (Through translator) We need it badly. We need food. We need water. We need medical equipment, we need tents. And that's what we really need now.
SIEGEL: What's the future of the village at this point?
ADAMS: (Through translator) We believe in rebuilding this place again. We believe in our government, we believe in our party and our people, and we will rebuild our home.
SIEGEL: Is your family all right?
ADAMS: (Through translator) As far as I know, they're all buried under the mountain.
SIEGEL: I'm so sorry. Thank you very much, sir.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SHOUTING)
SIEGEL: Mr. Shu fought back tears when he told us about his own family, and he didn't completely succeed. In the center of the town near the traffic police headquarters, we found just crowds of people who've camped out here. They no longer have homes, and they've camped out along a bend in the road. And also a group of families with children is waiting for a truck or a bus to take them out of here. They're trying to get out of this area which has been so hard hit by the earthquake.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
SIEGEL: That three-wheeled pickup truck had a flat in the rear. That's the sound you hear as it rumbles by toward a bridge that's really only fit for pedestrian traffic or motor scooters. It looks like it's going to go across just the same. There's a first-aid station in the center of the village. A couple of doctors are handing out medicine, stringing up an IV for a patient. That's a very common medical remedy here.
Shri Shao Ping(ph) is a doctor from this village. She's treating people. I asked her how many.
ADAMS: (Through translator) Countless. From last night it's nonstop. I stay up all night. One after another. One after another.
SIEGEL: What kinds of injuries are you treating?
ADAMS: (Through translator) They were hit by rocks - and broken bones.
SIEGEL: And is there enough equipment here, medicine and bandages, to take care of people?
ADAMS: (Through translator) Not enough right now. The supply chain is not enough, and we can only use the IVs for that most injured ones. With the lightly injured, we just gave them some pills.
SIEGEL: We walked up from the first-aid station, up the road cut into the mountains, still farther up toward the avalanche that Mr. Shu, the village chairman, spoke of, and all along you find people who are in shelters. The rain has picked up now quite a bit and a typical shelter - some bamboo rods stretched through the trees with plastic curtains, large plastic sheets draped over them to create some enclosure. And that was where we asked Wang Ching(ph), a woman with a 1-year-old baby and her entire extended family inside a shelter, how long she's been there.
ADAMS: (Through translator) We walked here this morning. We arrived here this morning. All of us, we walked here and our children have nothing to eat.
SIEGEL: How far did you walk? How far away is your village?
ADAMS: (Through translator) About 35 kilometers. Our village is completely flattened, completely flattened.
SIEGEL: And where do you hope to go now?
ADAMS: (Through translator) Nobody is here to help us. The soldiers were here earlier. They only carried away the injured ones. We're - we are - we're just left here. No one asked about us. No one is taking care of us. We have relatives, some in the safer areas. We just don't know how to get there.
SIEGEL: I hope you are taken there soon. I'm sure someone will come.
ADAMS: (Through translator) We don't know if anybody is going to come here and save us. We don't know.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
SIEGEL: And this isn't even the worst of it. Everywhere in these mountain villages of Sichuan, they've heard about Chuan Bay(ph). That's a village of several thousands still farther up the road - wiped out completely. We're told that the mountains on either side of Chuan Bay collapsed onto the village, burying its population in a double avalanche.
Besides stories like that, the plight of a woman we met on our drive back to the city sounds minor, and she's the first to say so. Mrs. Bien(ph) has a house facing the highway to Chengdu in the town of Jiangyo(ph). She's now living in a makeshift tent between the house and the highway. Her story is less heartrending, but it is one measure of the task facing China once the life-and- death cases are seen to.
ADAMS: (Speaking in Chinese)
SIEGEL: Like hundreds of houses here, the roofing tiles were shaken loose from hers by the quake, and they lie on the ground now. Her pavement is cracked, so are some of the walls.
ADAMS: (Speaking in Chinese)
SIEGEL: How will you get the house fixed?
ADAMS: (Through translator) We don't know how we can afford to repair this. This was a brand new house. We spent a lot of money with it - it is brand new. It's only two years - two and a half years ago we built this house.
SIEGEL: In Sichuan, after the earthquake, some are dead and some are grieving. Many are injured, hungry or homeless, and many have homes in need of expensive repair, and millions are left anxious by their brush this week with the violent, destructive power of the earth beneath their feet.
This is Robert Siegel, NPR News, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China.
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