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Quake victims pick up pieces
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-11-29 06:36

Ruichang, Jiangxi Province: Li Jinxiu is still in a state of shock as she surveys her courtyard in the aftermath of Saturday's earthquake. Furniture, cooking utensils and quilts lay scattered about, all that could be salvaged from the wreckage of her house.

That day should have been a joyous one for the 48-year-old widow from Datang Village, in the eastern part of Ruichang. Her 25-year-old son was due to be married that morning, but instead of family celebrations and a new future, her world came crashing down around her.

"I'd been expecting the day for such a long time, but when it finally came it was a disaster," Li said, sobbing.

"Because the recently decorated house for the newly-weds collapsed, they had to go to my daughter-in-law's home on the wedding day."

One small consolation for the heart-broken woman was that none of her immediate family members and friends were killed or injured. At 8:49 am when the quake occurred, most of the guests had still not arrived. The few people that were present were helping her with the cooking in the courtyard when the earth began to move.

Li's village was one of the areas hardest-hit by the earthquake, the epicentre of which was in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River in the northern part of East China's Jiangxi Province.

Jiujiang County, a major part of the well-known Lushan Mountain, and neighbouring city of Ruichang, both in Jiangxi, sustained the most damage.

The devastating quake, measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale, with the epicentre 15 kilometres below the surface, has killed at least 15 people and injured more than 400 in the area.

Thousands of houses have collapsed and hundreds of thousands of brick houses are cracked, according to the local government.

In and around Ruichang, more than 420,000 people have left their homes, Xinhua reported.

Makeshift hospitals have been established in Ruichang to treat the injured people.

Wang Jian, a doctor at the Ruichang Hospital of Chinese Medicine, said his hospital received more than 100 injured people after the quake,

"The earthquake cracked many medical wards, so a lot of patients have been moved from dangerous buildings to makeshift structures in the open square," Wang said.

Tents serve as wards and operating theatres, he said, "but we are making every effort to help the patients."

For one of Wang's patients, extreme fright has given way to joy. Wu Yindi, from Jiujiang County, gave birth to a baby boy in the makeshift hospital yesterday morning and now both the mother and the baby are doing well.

"At the very beginning, I was not aware it was an earthquake," said Wu's mother-in-law.

"When I found the house was shaking, I tried to run out, but my trembling legs wouldn't move."

When the elderly woman finally moved outside, she found the bricks and roof tiles flying everywhere, and her pregnant daughter-in-law lying on the ground.

Despite the damage all around them, the family rushed Wu to a nearby makeshift hospital. "Thank goodness, both my daughter-in-law and my grandson are in good condition."

The boy has been named "Gui Zhen" in honour of his unusual birthday: "Zhen" in Chinese means "quake."

Across Ruichang and Jiujiang makeshift shelters and tents have been set up, as the scared residents remain unwilling to go back to their homes, scared by the sporadic aftershocks.

"Who knows when the next quake will occur?" said local resident Chen Changjiang, who narrowly escaped death by crawling out of the window after the roof of his house caved in.

"We cut down trees and have bought some plastic materials to build shelters," Chen said. "All of the people in my neighbourhood have stayed outdoors the past two nights."

However, seismologists and local government officials have repeatedly told the public that those who live 20 kilometres outside the epicentre should have no fear about returning to their homes.

Experts from the State Seismic Bureau suggest local people try not to be too afraid of aftershocks, and return to their homes.

According to forecasts and regular seismic patterns, there is little chance of a serious quake in the coming days, an earthquake expert told reporters.

Thanks to the organization of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, trucks carrying food, drinks and tents from neighbouring provinces have reached the worse-hit areas, but the aid is still far from enough.

"What we are in urgent need of are tents, as we have no shelter for our young children and elderly parents," said Chen.

The drizzle in the air yesterday morning was a concern. "I'm not sure how to keep us from the rain and the cold. The weather forecast says it might drizzle in the coming days."

Primary and middle schools in Ruichang will have a three-day break, so as to prevent possible aftershocks from causing casualties among students.

"If the quake had occurred during the week, perhaps the casualties would have been higher as the students would have been in class," said Cai Jian, a geography teacher at Ruichang No 2 Middle School.

In fact, in Yangxin County, 70 kilometres north of the epicentre in the neighbouring Hubei Province, 47 students were reportedly injured during a stampeed when the earthquake occurred.

To popularize the knowledge of earthquakes and disaster survival, Cai has been giving lectures in the campus. Yesterday, 40 students gathered to listen to his advice.

"Many students have learnt about earthquakes in books, but they have never experienced one themselves, and don't know how to protect themselves," Cai said.

Because of the low probability of earthquakes in the region, local people don't know what they should do, he added.

Historical data shows that the last earthquake in the region was in 1911, with a magnitude of 5.0.

The provincial earthquake forecast centre said no further major quake was expected, but warned that there could be many aftershocks in the coming three days.

(China Daily 11/29/2005 page5)

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