‘‘I haven’t heard from my 13-year-old daughter
since the earthquake and I don’t know whether she’s
dead or alive,” says Yang Mingyuan.
His face, eerily calm, suggests a disconnection from his
Yang has left his details with the volunteers at a desk for
missing people in a stadium in the Sichuan city of Mianyang,
which shelters more than 10,000 people. An estimated 5 million
people were made homeless by an earthquake registering 7.8
on the Richter scale on 12 May. Officials expect the death
toll to top 80,000.
He’s been searching for his daughter all over, including
at a hospital, where a patient with the same name was reportedly
being treated. But so far, he’s had no success.
“She’s old enough to know we’re looking
for her and to be able to get in touch,” he says.
Hundreds of people every day are trying to get news of missing
family members through the network of volunteers, putting
up notices and broadcasting messages.
In the gruelling afternoon heat in the stadium, a Red Cross
Society of China volunteer rushes to organize transport for
a father who, he says, has tracked down his son and wants
to go to him as quickly as possible.
Teams of experts from the Chinese Red Cross are training
groups of volunteers to carry out psychosocial work among
the survivors. Their techniques will include approaches adapted
to Chinese culture and customs such as t’ai chi breathing
“It is normal in a situation like this for people to
have feelings that are hard to deal with,” says Amgaa
Oyungerel, the health delegate for the International Federation.
“Sometimes people just need someone to talk with and
to comfort them and help relieve stress and the fear of the
Continuing aftershocks and the threat of floods and landslides
increase survivors’ worries.
Red Cross staff and volunteers have been working around the
clock to provide basic relief, medical care and shelter. They
are backed up by disaster and water and sanitation experts
from the International Federation, which has appealed for
US$ 92.7 million to support a three-year programme to help
about 500,000 people. Efforts will focus on the construction
of health centres and schools.
Xiao Wei, 16, has wanted to be a construction engineer since
he was a child playing with wooden bricks. After the earthquake,
he is even more set on the idea.
“I hope that if all these towns and villages are rebuilt
after the earthquake, they can be planned in a different way
— with more open spaces and not such tall buildings,”
he says as he sits with his family in part of a tent shelter
along the highway.
The apartment where Xiao Wei lived with his parents was not
completely destroyed but has been declared unsafe to live
in. That’s more fortunate than most of the people here,
including his aunt, Yang Yunju. Her apartment was destroyed
and her daughter, injured in the quake, is being treated in
a nearby medical tent, set up by doctors from the Red Cross
in neighbouring Hunan province. The 30-person team is one
of several Red Cross units that rushed in from other areas
Xiao Wei’s eyes reflect an enormous sense of loss.
“I feel sad about my home town and that so many people
have died,” he says.