Couple Frantic to Find Loved Ones in Rubble Rescuers worked frantically throughout southwestern China on Wednesday to reach the thousands of people still trapped in the rubble after Monday's devastating earthquake. But, as the day faded, so did the hope that many of the missing would be found alive.
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Couple Frantic to Find Loved Ones in Rubble

Listen to Melissa Block's story

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

NOAH ADAMS, Host:

And in southwestern China, police, volunteers and families are bracing for a grim transition from rescue to recovery. Thousands of people remain missing or trapped after Monday's 7.9-magnitude earthquake.

NORRIS: The number of dead is now estimated at nearly 15,000, but police and the military have yet to reach some of the hardest-hit cities, and the number of dead is expected to soar when they do. The city of Dujiangyan is roughly 20 miles from the epicenter, and it was devastated by the quake. One young couple there allowed Melissa Block to join them during their desperate effort to rescue loved ones.

MELISSA BLOCK: More than 600,000 people lived in the city of Dujiangyan before the earthquake. Now, there is no telling how many are dead. Much of the city lies in ruins. Hospitals, schools, apartment buildings were flattened by the force of the earthquake. We end up driving through the city behind a rumbling excavator, and we find two people, a woman and a man, stumbling alongside it. They're clinging to the machine's lowered boom, as if they could pull it by sheer human force to speed it through traffic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

BLOCK: Please, let us pass, they're crying. We have the excavator so we can save people. Our parents and our child are buried. Fu Guanyu and Wang Wei hop back in their tiny Suzuki, which they've abandoned in traffic. They lead the excavator on its way, and I climb in with them. She is 26, he's 34. It's Mr. Wang's parents who are buried, along with the young couple's son, Wang Zhilu. He's two months shy of his second birthday.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

U: He's a lovely boy, and about 10 minutes before the happening of earthquake, he, you know, he's calling, mom, please stay with me and don't go.

BLOCK: It's been two days now, and you haven't been able to get any machinery to your house?

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

U: I still don't want to give up. I firmly believe he's still alive.

BLOCK: Finally, we pull up at the end of the alley that leads to the family's apartment building.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: The family rushes toward the six-story collapsed building at one end of a courtyard filled with trees.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXCAVATOR)

BLOCK: Cement and bricks and rubble, it's a pile about three stories high, what's left of this building. All around it, there are buildings that are perfectly fine. That building is not at all fine. That building is gone.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: We lived on the fourth floor, Mrs. Fu says. That's our furniture up there.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: Mrs. Fu is climbing up through sharp pieces of metal. She's calling out her son's name, Wang; she's peering through the bricks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: The dad is now crawling...

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

BLOCK: ...deep under the masonry and that's not safe.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: From the description of the ring, the Wang family can tell this not their relative, it's a neighbor. There is some relief, but also now even deeper fear that this day will not end well. We are 50 feet away from the rubble pile, and now the smell of death is unmistakable.

U: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: Hours crawl by; there is no news. Mrs. Fu and Mr. Wang fall into each other's arms.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: So, some soldiers have just come in and have reported that they could not find any sniffer dogs.

ADAMS: 40 in the afternoon, nine hours after this day of waiting began, a worker comes out with news.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND CRYING)

BLOCK: A worker just came out and said they have found the bodies of a child and two old people. And Mrs. Fu asked, was he a boy of about two, and the worker nodded yes. So they now know that their family has been found, and they're all dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

BLOCK: Mrs. Fu just cried out her son's name, and she said, mama is here.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: The mother just called out to the worker asking whether he had called out to the child, that maybe he had just fainted.

NORRIS: (Speaking in Chinese)

BLOCK: The family was told later that their baby was found in his grandfather's arms, with the grandmother close behind holding onto her husband's back. There have been so many deaths here in Dujiangyan that the crematories are full. People are being asked to take the bodies of their loved ones out to the countryside for burial. But Fu Guanyu and Wang Wei managed to get a local crematorium to come collect the bodies. They're driven away in a white van. Later, the family will burn paper money to usher the dead into the afterlife; they'll light incense and set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRECRACKERS)

BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block in Dujiangyan.

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