We experience the Sichuan Earthquake

Sichuan Earthquake and its aftermath

Our hearts, our empathy, and our sympathy go out to the victims and the people of China. It was through our Katrina-disaster filters that we experienced and viewed the Sichuan Province earthquake in southwestern China, its toll on people, and the Chinese government’s response.

Click here to learn how you can help survivors rebuild their homes via the Chinese chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

On 12/May/08 at 2:28 pm, during the earthquake’s first major shock, we were in the Beijing area-about 900 miles away. We did not feel the earthquake, as we think we were in a bus traveling between our visit to a section of the Great Wall and one of the Ming Tombs. Many people in Beijing did feel the quake and buildings did sway, but no injuries or damage occurred in Beijing. Recent estimates are that approximately 70,000 people were killed and over 30 million people were and still are affected.

I did not see the round-the-clock coverage of Katrina because electricity was not available at our storm refuge area. However, in China, we watched the round-the-clock TV coverage as provided by Chinese TV and CNN. We did understand that we were watching the government’s version of their response. However, their version did seem to correspond to CNN and what we read on the internet and what we have learned since being back home.

Everyplace we went people talked about the tragedy of the earthquake. If we talked to an American, it was to compare the earthquake to Katrina. Almost, needless to say, the Chinese government got more points than the US government in responding to their individual disasters.

Our journey brought us closer to the epicenter during the next few weeks. Each tour guide shared their earthquake stories; they felt their building move and shake, they made their way to an outside area, they called their family, then they went into shock and grief.

On the one-week anniversary at 2 pm, the country entered into a national 3-day period of mourning. On this same day we flew into Chongqing, about 200 miles from the epicenter. At 2:28 pm we were traveling between the airport and a panda bear park. Our minibus stopped on the highway, we held hands in the van, and the driver sounded the van’s horn for 3 minutes. We did this along with all the other cars and trucks on this highway and along with hundreds of millions throughout China. I was very moved.

Later that day, still in Chongqing, we boarded our Yangtze River cruise boat. That evening at dusk, thousands of people came to the river to gather. They lit candles, sang songs, held each other, and cried. We joined them along the riverside. In their tradition, they launched paper lanterns to demonstrate blessings and good will. These colorful paper lanterns have a tea candle at their bottom. When the candle is lit, the heat builds in the lantern and soon it begins to float up into the air (same principal as a hot air balloon.) The sight of these colorful lanterns floating in the sky, in memory of the earthquakes victim was again a moving experience. We too launched a lantern with the help of local teenagers. I think they were moved that we wanted to share in their grief. No words were spoken—just their assistance, our shared smiles and sad eyes.


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