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Chinese Quake Survivors Fill Makeshift Camps


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


The Chinese government says nearly 50,000 police and soldiers have been sent now to the disaster zone in Sichuan province. And earlier today, President Bush pledged $500,000 in earthquake relief.

NORRIS: Our co-host Melissa Block is in the city of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province. Yesterday, she was in the middle of conducting an interview when the earthquake hit. This morning, she traveled for three hours toward the quake's epicenter. I spoke with her earlier, and she described the scene along the way.

MELISSA BLOCK: You see people living in essentially tent cities along the road. They're under tarps, they're under umbrellas, they're under plastic sheeting, they've moved mattresses outside, they've moved things to cook with outside, they're camping outside because they don't want to go back into their houses. There have been so many aftershocks, and nobody wants to be inside and a lot of these houses probably are structurally unsound.

NORRIS: And you also made it to another small village, Gui Xi, what did you find there?

BLOCK: But the stories we heard there were - a lot of them were from people who'd come from villages that were even harder hit, and were coming to this village for help.

NORRIS: So you've had a chance to actually talk to some of the people that were in Gui Xi?

BLOCK: Yeah, and especially I - I talked to one woman, a woman named Jao Rang(ph), she's 36 years old. She had walked 30 kilometers, 20 miles with four children, ages nine to 15. She was wearing heels and they talked to us about sort of why they had left their village, which had been completely devastated, it's in Bi-Chuan(ph) county, which is this county where 80 percent of the buildings are said to be destroyed. They were coming. She had injured her wrist. One of the boys she was with, a nine-year-old boy, had an injured eye and they were coming to try to get help because in their village, there's rally nothing for them there. The question is: where do they go from here?


JAO RANG: (Through translator) I don't know, I don't know. I thought I would just sit down, you know, when I find a proper place. (Unintelligible) save our lives, our lives.


BLOCK: The first thing you want to do is save your families life?

RANG: (Through translator) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BLOCK: Do you have anything to eat? Do you have any clothes?

RANG: (Through translator) (Unintelligible) you know, we live our life like a beggar.

BLOCK: And that's pretty much the story for them and a lot of these other folks we saw coming through with the clothes on their backs, and hoping that they could find something along the way.

NORRIS: Melissa, one day after this earthquake struck, reports still vary wildly. Do you have any sense of the devastation in some of those more remote areas? Are you hearing things, if not from the official news agency, from some of the survivors in those areas?

BLOCK: It's so hard to get a sense of the scope of this, Michele. I mean, you do hear these incredibly huge numbers of people believed buried in - in just one city, you know, numbering in the tens of thousands. This woman, Jao Rang, whom we just heard from, is from a town of 15,000 people. When I asked her how many people she thought had been killed in her town, she figured a third, and that would be 5,000 people in this one fairly small town, alone. And I think until rescue workers get to these places, we really have no idea.

NORRIS: Melissa, are you still feeling aftershocks?

BLOCK: You know, there have been a number of aftershocks, quite powerful ones, about two dozen aftershocks of magnitude five or more. I get text message alerts from the U.S. Geological Service when an aftershock has hit. And, you know, I've bolted out of bed the other night when one hit at four in the morning. It's a terrifying feeling, we were talking about this tonight and you sort of after having gone to this earthquake, you feel like you have kind of a muscle memory for those vibrations. You know, all of your sort of adrenaline starts flowing, it's a terrifying thing, and that's certainly why you see a lot of these people who are sleeping out on the streets all over this province.

NORRIS: All right. Well, Melissa, I just have one last question. The tape that so many asked of us have heard now have you describing what actually happened, shifting almost into play-by-play mode as you're experiencing this incredible sensation, I'm just curious how you were able to move to that moment. Have you had a time to even think about that?

BLOCK: You know, I haven't heard that tape, and I'm really curious to listen to what it sounds like. I think, because it's such a surreal sensation, I'm sure I would have sounded very different if I had looked around and buildings were falling down all around me, which they weren't. I mean, the street was waving, buildings were shaking, cars were jiggling, but I wasn't seeing devastation all around me. And so, you sort of are taking it in and thinking, what's going on here? What is this? This is - it was my first earthquake, I'd never been through anything like it.

NORRIS: Well, Melissa, thanks so much. Please stay safe, we'll be talking to you again soon.

BLOCK: Okay, thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That was my co-host Melissa Block in Chengdu, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.