Earthquake accounts from foreigners in Chengdu

After the break, two first-person accounts of the earthquake and its aftermath, from foreigners in Chengdu. These are long and, to me, vivid in their detail, but skip past if you're not interested. I'm providing them here for real-time documentary purposes.

1) From Tom Hill, who with his wife Heather teaches English in Chengdu. This arrived last night, China time, a few hours after the main earthquake

"All appears OK here. The last time I saw so many people pouring out of a Chengdu building the restaurant's kitchen was ablaze. But then I figured all the kitchens on the street could not have caught fire at once. And that would not explain why every motion sensing car, motorbike and bicycle alarm within earshot was suddenly beeping, shrieking and warbling.
Chinese vehicle alarms are, as you know, less than intimidating.

"My second thought was one of the buildings being constructed around me was collapsing. A small, unsupported, just erected brick wall with the mortar still wet, did. I looked up and around and saw a construction crane swaying. Simultaneously, my cold addled brain processed the rolling of the sidewalk.

"Then I realized it was an earthquake - my first. Most of the schools were evacuated; classes have been canceled at mine for the rest of the day. Cell service is out, but gas, water and electricity are on. Wired phones and internet are ok.

"Some cosmetic damage to my poured concrete 7 story building, but all the pictures stayed on the wall. Once I got home I found that Yi Fae, our dear cleaning lady and feng shui adjuster, had chosen to ride out the rumble inside.

"Heather and I are a little skittish.... [Later update:] Around 150 students at my school will be sleeping outside tonight. They are boarders whose parents live too far away to come and pick them up. The regular overnight dorm duty teacher plus the head teachers of each grade will be joining them. At this writing the issue of mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets and related stuff has not been addresses.

"Some of the students I talked to were frightened, some seem to think it all a great adventure. Some of the folks in my part of town are making provisions to sleep outside tonight.


2) From Deborah Counts, a Chengdu resident and teacher at Chengdu International School (CDIS). This arrived recently, about 24 hours after the main quake:

"I returned from chaperoning a Middle School outdoor education trip to the Du Jiang Yen area on Sunday, May 11th. CDIS students had spent two days rappelling from bridges, mountain climbing, and exploring the area. On Monday at 2:30 p.m., my 7th grade homeroom students and I were in the library when the earthquake began. All of my students took cover except one, who had spent several years in Taiwan. He dashed to the doorway and stood under the crossbeam, announcing that he loved earthquakes. We immediately evacuated our school building, then sent the students home. All of our students, that is, but the students who were taking an AP Physics exam. They stayed at school to finish the second half of the test. Their exam proctor counted seventeen aftershocks during their 90 minute testing period.

"CDIS is on the main road that goes from Chengdu to Du Jiang Yen and a steady stream of ambulances has been driving past CDIS to western Sichuan. There was a massive traffic jam along the Cheng Guan Expressway coming into Chengdu yesterday afternoon. I watched cars inch by while waiting with students whose drivers were late picking them up from school.

"In the Chengdu suburb where I live (XiPu), people dragged out tables and were playing cards, smoking, and chatting late into the evening.

"Fruit stands were selling pineapple on sticks. I saw no arguments, no visible panic. People were waiting patiently for permission to return home. One of my friends, Susan, had a much different experience. She recently gave birth in a Chengdu hospital and she in the middle of her two-week check-up when the earthquake hit. She and her husband walked out of their examining room and saw husbands running down the stairs, carrying their wives, who were in labor. Family members were running beside the husbands, carrying IV bags. Susan and her baby finished their checkup, then tried to find a taxi home. None were available. She and her husband walked for two hours before finding a three-wheeled motorcycle that was willing to take them to XiPu.

"I was only kept out of my apartment building until 7:30 p.m, but friends of mine who teach at a nearby university were not allowed back in their apartment building at all (They live above the 20th floor.).

"Their school officials did not let them come sleep in my third floor apartment, so they spent the night on their school's field. During my 10-minute drive to school this morning, I saw four tents. Two of them were on McDonald's property. Apparently dozens of people spent the night at McDonald's. Others, like CDIS's Korean history teacher, waited outside their apartments until 4 a.m., when they were finally allowed inside. Many families slept in their cars. On my way to school, I saw one small car with two sleeping couples. Each couple had a small baby.

"The mayor of Chengdu has closed all Chengdu schools for three days so inspectors can check for structural integrity. Most stores and restaurants are not open. Those that are have limited supplies and items on the menu because people stocked up yesterday. My roommate, who is a Diet Coke addict, bought a case of it, then persuaded a kind male to carry it up three flights of stairs to our apartment. Most people are being a bit more practical and purchasing food: noodles, crackers, peanuts, fruit.

" The foreigners I know who live in 1st-4th floor apartments are fine. Most have hot water, gas, and electricity. There has been a lot of damage to apartments above the 5th floor. One of our students, who was supposed to take an AP Psychology exam today, called last night to check see if he had an exam today or not. He sounded somewhat distraught, so we asked him what was wrong. We learned that he lives on the 18th floor and that his family's TV, piano, and computer were destroyed. Since his father had just had major surgery and their apartment's elevator was not working, his parents were unable to exit their building.

"The Chinese I know have relatives or friends who live to the west of us. Many are fine, although their homes are not. My Chinese co-teacher, Solomon, has been frantically calling his godfather, who lives in Du Jiang Yen City. Solomon lives near Chuan Da and he told me the no one in the Chuan Da area, including Chuan Da students, returned home last night. Solomon came to CDIS to use the Internet this morning, hoping to find news about his godfather. Solomon does not know if his godfather is alive, but he has heard that he will not be able to return to his apartment for three days.

"I just felt a rather strong tremor, so will close. "