Tale of desperation turns to one of hope

Updated: 2013-05-03 07:09

By An Baijie (China Daily)

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Tale of desperation turns to one of hope

When I was on my way to Sichuan province's earthquake-devastated region last month, I imagined the possible scene - collapsed houses everywhere, rushing trucks loaded with rescue machinery and food, and broken-hearted people crying bitterly.

The magnitude-7 quake that rocked Ya'an city in the southwestern province on April 20 had left at least 196 people dead and 21 others missing.

When I arrived at Longmen township, the epicenter, on the morning of April 21, I found many collapsed wooden houses, smashed glass scattered on the ground, and homeless people asking for food and water from passing vehicles.

Some residents had all of their possessions buried in the ruins. None of them dared to sleep in their homes any more for fear of aftershocks.

For many residents, the quake has claimed everything, including the lives of their loved ones.

Lots of villagers held up message boards asking for water, food and tents.

They stood along the roadside and waved their boards at me, as I passed in an army truck loaded with food and vegetables.

However, no matter how difficult their lives had become, I rarely detected much grief or despair during my seven-day trip.

On the streets of Lushan county's downtown area, 20 km from the epicenter, people were waiting patiently in line to get relief materials, including food and water, several days after the quake.

There was no unrest or disorder as they waited.

Many talked and even laughed - quite amazing, given their homes had been completely destroyed several days before.

"Aren't you sad about your house being destroyed?" I asked one woman, who had bought her apartment just three years ago, with all of her family's savings, as well as a loan of 340,000 yuan ($55,200).

"Would sadness change the current situation?" she asked me. "If sadness is useless, why would I be sad?"

The attitude was similar in many people I talked to.

Their optimism moved me, as did their amazing strength, faced with such adversity.

A 10-year-old boy told me that when the quake hit, instead of fleeing from his house, he ran into his grandfather's bedroom to wake him up and then led him to safety.

"My parents are migrant workers in Guangdong province," the boy told me. "I must shoulder the responsibility of taking care of my grandpa."

A 9-year-old girl bravely told me the earthquake felt just like "sitting on a train", adding she was not very scared since she experienced the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.

Conditions in the quake-hit region are getting better.

Shops have reopened, vegetables are being sold at the roadside, and telecommunications have been restored to most places.

As I left the quake-hit region on April 27, I noticed the boards were still being waved at the side of the road.

But the messages on many had changed from asking for help to expressing gratitude to the rescuers.

"Thank you, soldiers and rescuers," read one. "We will be strong."

Contact the writer at anbaijie@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 05/03/2013 page4)