April 29, 2009
Anna Christopher, NPR



NPR Host Melissa Block, First on the Scene in May 2008,
Revisits Villages Near Epicenter of Massive Quake;
Reports to Air Week of May 4

April 29, 2009; Washington, D.C. – “What’s going on? The whole building is shaking. The whole building is shaking. My goodness. Oh my goodness. We’re in the middle of an earthquake?” On May 12, 2008, NPR host Melissa Block was recording an interview in a church in Chengdu, China, when the entire building and the city around it began to move violently. Producer Andrea Hsu kept recording as they ran to safety; a few hours later, Block’s startled account from that moment – what they soon learned had been a magnitude 7.9 earthquake, with an epicenter 55 miles away – became the first broadcast from Sichuan province to reach the United States.

In the hours, days and weeks to follow, Block, her co-host Robert Siegel and an All Things Considered production team – in Chengdu preparing for a special weeklong broadcast – traveled throughout Sichuan to witness the immense devastation and loss, and later, the relief efforts. Their extensive reporting aired across all of NPR’s programs and earned instant recognition from other media organizations and listeners around the world, and has since been honored with a Peabody, duPont-Columbia, National Headliner and Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi awards.

In advance of the anniversary of the earthquake, Block and Hsu are returning to the hardest-hit regions of Sichuan to report on efforts to rebuild infrastructure, and piece back together communities and families upended by the events of last year. This special coverage will air throughout the week of May 4 on the NPR newsmagazine All Things Considered, which is broadcast on NPR Member stations nationwide. Block and Hsu are currently chronicling their travels at the “Chengdu Diary” blog, www.NPR.org/blogs/chengdu, and NPR.org will offer additional audio, photographs and text from their reporting in China.

"It's been both sobering and awe-inspiring to come back to Sichuan one year after the quake,” says Block. “The physical devastation still takes my breath away. The emotional toll on families who lost loved ones is still excruciatingly painful to witness, one year later. At the same time, signs of rebirth and rebuilding are everywhere, and I'm stunned by the frenetic pace at which Sichuan is putting itself back together."

Next week's reporting will cover the speed of rebuilding and the pressure from the highest levels of Chinese government to accelerate the pace of recovery; efforts to make the new structures safer and stronger; and the growth of a new earthquake-related tourism industry that is springing up in villages around the quake zone. Block will report on the questions surrounding the collapse of so many schools around Sichuan, and the pressure local officials are exerting on parents whose children died in those schools to stay quiet. She will also profile a young girl who lost both her legs after her school collapsed around her and she was trapped in the debris.

Christopher Turpin, executive producer of All Things Considered and part of the team in China last year, says it was crucial for NPR to return to Sichuan and follow up on its reporting. “Having experienced the quake firsthand, Melissa and Andrea are uniquely positioned to assess the progress of the reconstruction effort. Hundred of thousands of people lost everything, or almost everything, and are trying to put their lives back together. We want to put a human face on this tragedy.”

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon newsmagazine, is broadcast on more than 660 NPR Member stations nationwide, reaching 13 million listeners weekly. The two-hour weekday program is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org

With 17 foreign bureaus and offices, more than any other major U.S. broadcast network, NPR News offers daily in-depth international coverage that is consistently recognized for broadcast excellence. In Asia, NPR maintains permanent bureaus in Beijing, Shanghai, Kabul and New Delhi; its newest bureau, in Islamabad, Pakistan, opened earlier this month.