May 13, 2008

7.9 Earthquake in China

Monday afternoon my roommates and I were on video Skype with a friend in Changsha when she exclaimed, "Whoa, I'm shaking.. Do you guys feel that?" Clothes hanging in the background were swaying and the shaking lasted a full minute. Changsha is in south-central China, and Beijing is in the northeast. We assumed it was a smaller earthquake closer to her.
But, a couple minutes later my roommate Megan got a call from her boyfriend who works at an International school here in Beijing. He said they were under their desks and wondered if we were o.k. He called back to say they were evacuating, and eventually canceled classes for the day. This was before any news was available. And let's be honest, news isn't readily available here.
That evening at the gym, I watched the Beijing news. The report was that 4 people had died and 900 students were trapped in their middle school. The largest city to the epicenter is Chengdu in Sichuan province and news reporters were among evacuated hospitals, interviewing what people felt, etc. There was no sign of damage and no one was hurt. People were just fearful and concerned, as well as unwilling to go back into buildings.
The fault line of the earthquake is where the Sichuan plain meets the Tibetan mountain range. That area is far from Beijing, to the southwest. Sichuan is also the most densely populated province in all of China.
When I got home the logic just didn't make sense, an earthquake felt 900 miles away in Beijing and there's hardly any damage? I checked CNN, BBC, and ABC and they were just reporting what they were hearing from Chinese media sources.
Late Monday night I checked my foreign news sources again and found a different story- 2,000 people dead, 80% of buildings in the area destroyed.
On Tuesday morning I taught two different classes. In the first class (higher level English) I printed out an ABC news report and we looked up new vocab, discussed facts and figures and then spent time Lifting up the people of Sichuan province.
In the second class (beginner English level) I talked in simple terms about the earthquake and suggested that we Think for the those that have lost family and friends. Leona started crying, her family lives in Sichuan, in the city of Chongqing. She had tried to call, but phone lines are down as well as power in the area, so she's just waiting to hear. Leona cried throughout class, the silent tears, that just fall down your cheek. She tried to learn grammar and pronunciation, but her mind was elsewhere.
As of today, Wednesday morning, over 12,000 have perished and authorities expect that number to rise as they start to clear rubble from the epicenter.
I am completely fine in Beijing, thank you for your emails and calls of concern. The Chinese government doesn't want International relief workers, but will take money and supplies. At this point, I just plan to help Leona attempt to get in contact with her family.
Earthquake in China, cyclone in Myanmar, earthquake in Japan... what's going on in Asia?

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