Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earthquake Damage

The latest that I'm hearing is that over 12,000 people have been killed and 60,000 people remain missing. There are reports of an entire town, north of the city of Wenchuan in Sichuan, disappearing. The Wolong panda reserve, close to the epicenter and home to 86 rare Giant Pandas, had still not been reached as of last night. Last night there was also heavy rain, creating mudslides, adding to the weight of the rubble, making search and rescue operations even more difficult. Some people in the area are posting to blogs that airlifts are the only way in right now.

Some schools and other buildings that are only ten years old collapsed, killing many, while buildings decades older neighboring them are still standing. This is raising questions about builders cutting corner to save costs and corrupt officials siphoning funding meant for public works for their own personal use.

Here in Beijing the people I know are sharing stories of what we know. Some of the first news is whether Chinese colleagues/friends/staff are affected.

One friend's ayi (the word literally means 'aunt,' but it is used in several ways here: to refer to female household staff (maids, nannies), or as a polite way to refer to a woman who is your mother's age - when I start playing with children their parents often tell them to say hello or wave to ayi, me) reached her family in Sichuan by telephone after many hours of trying to get through to learn that her husband and son were not injured and their home is still standing, but there is major structural damage. She said she wanted to return home to be with her family but her husband's response was "No, we don't need a girl. Send money." Women from rural areas can often earn more as household servants in the major eastern cities than their husbands can earn in construction, building or other tasks of physical labor, so leave their families to come east and send money home. Some women don't see their families for years, difficult under the best circumstances, but disaster such as this makes it much harder.

The Chinese government has committed over $52 million to earthquake relief, and is emphasizing that saving lives is their top priority. The Red Cross Society of China is also mobilizing to provide aid to those in need. The American Red Cross is accepting donations to support their efforts. Some local Chinese aid organizations are also collecting funds but I don't know about their reliability or their ability to access the area now to provide aid so I am refraining from posting their information.

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