Small Miracles Rise from Earthquake's Rubble NPR's Melissa Block, who has been reporting on China's massive earthquake since it hit Monday, finds residents in fear amid the continuing aftershocks. But there are also signs of hope, a struggle for normalcy and heartening stories of survival.
NPR logo

Listen to Melissa Block's story

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90570206/90570184" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Small Miracles Rise from Earthquake's Rubble

Listen to Melissa Block's story

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90570206/90570184" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Rescue workers in China today pulled yet another survivor from the rubble of Monday's massive earthquake. But now most efforts in the disaster area are aimed at recovering bodies. The Chinese government expects the final death toll to top 50,000.

NPR's Melissa Block was in Chengdu when the earthquake struck. She and her ALL THINGS CONSIDERED co-host Robert Siegel were there to prepare for a weeklong series of reports from Chengdu they've been planning for months. She offers us this Reporter's Notebook.

MELISSA BLOCK: Late last night when a potent aftershock jolted me out of bed, I thought about two 15-year-old boys I met on Thursday. Both were in Juyuan Middle School when the earthquake hit. That building was completely destroyed with hundreds of children killed. The boys that I met were in the lucky minority of survivors.

Wang Xuwai(ph) has a beautiful face and soft eyes. When his school building started to shake he followed his history teacher's orders to run. He had just made it to the playground when the school collapsed behind him. His friend Wei Bo(ph) was in politics class. His teacher told the students to stay in their seats and keep calm. Wei was buried in the rubble but managed to claw his way out after 20 minutes with just a scrape on his back. He also helped save a friend. His teacher was crushed and killed.

Mr. WEI BO (Student): (Chinese spoken)

Mr. WANG XUWAI (Student): (Chinese spoken)

BLOCK: When I asked the boys how they're doing now, Wei Bo told me every time there's an aftershock, I feel scared in my heart. His friend chimes in, I don't go indoors. If I do, I'm haunted by fear.

No one is staying inside. Even if houses remain standing, people are sleeping outdoors, and the aftershocks continue to rumble through with a regularity that makes your stomach lurch. If they're this strong here in Chengdu, I can only imagine how terrifying they are closer to the epicenter.

In battered cities around the earthquake zone, I've seen tiny signs of survivors trying to establish normalcy amid the chaos. Just steps away from excavators carting away the remains of a collapsed building in Dujiangyan, I spotted shoelaces hanging from a makeshift clothesline. The residents in that building are living under a tarp on the median of their street. The air is full of dust but they had carefully draped shoelaces on that line to dry.

I haven't begun to process the scale of this disaster. On Wednesday I spent a long day with a mother and father as they watched heavy machinery dig through the rubble of their apartment building. I was there with them when they learned their only child had been found dead - a boy, not quite two years old killed with his grandparents. The sound of their utter anguish echoes constantly in my mind.

And yet there continue to be stories of daring rescue, of impossible survival, even now after six days. I keep looking at a photo on the Xinhua news agency Web site. It shows a soldier gently cradling a round-cheeked tiny bundle of an infant. The baby is sleeping peacefully without even a scratch. The baby's about three years old wearing a quilted green vest and soft shoes wrapped in a blanket. Xinhua says the baby was found on Tuesday in the wreckage of a building in Beichuan. The mother was found kneeling above her child in protection. She did not survive but she saved her baby.

And, according to Xinhua, in a story that just defies belief, but that you hope is true, the rescue workers also found a cell phone. The mother had tucked it into her baby's blanket. She had typed a text message on the screen. The message said, my dear, if you can survive, please remember I love you.

HANSEN: Our colleague Melissa Block with her Reporter's Notebook from Chengdu, China. To read their blogs, go to NPR.org/ChinaDiary.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.