‘No Hope’ for Children Buried in Earthquake
DUJIANGYAN, China — The children who were considered fortunate escaped with a broken bone or a severed limb. The others, hundreds of them, were carried out to be buried, and their remaining classmates lay crushed beneath the rubble of the schoolhouse.
“There’s no hope for them,” said Lu Zhiqing, 58, as she watched uniformed rescue workers trudge through mud and rain toward the mound of bricks and concrete that had once been a school. “There’s no way anyone’s still alive in there.”
Little remained of the original structure of the school. No standing beams, no fragments of walls. The rubble lay low against the wet earth. Dozens of people gathered around in the schoolyard, clawing at the debris, kicking it, screaming at it. Soldiers kept others from entering.
A man and woman walked away from the rubble together. He sheltered her under an umbrella as she wailed, “My child is dead! Dead!”
As dawn crept across this shattered town on Tuesday, it illuminated rows and rows of apartment blocks collapsed into piles, bodies wedged among the debris, homeless families and their neighbors clustered on the roadside, shielding themselves from the downpour with plastic tarps.
The earthquake originated here in the lush farm fields and river valleys of Sichuan Province, killing almost 10,000 people and trapping thousands more.
One of the most jarring tragedies of the disaster was the school collapse in a suburb of Dujiangyan. At least several hundred children were killed, perhaps as many as 900. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao flew here on Monday to survey the destruction, but he was powerless to ease the suffering of the survivors.
In the center of town, a woman said she had called local government officials 10 times to plead for help in rescuing her son and mother, but no one had come.
So on Tuesday morning, she stood crying before the remains of her apartment building. Her 5-month-old son was still buried in there, as was her 56-year-old mother.
“I was outside when the earthquake hit,” said the woman, Wang Xiaoni, 26. “I ran back even while the ground was still shaking.”
She shook her head. “Who’s going to help them now?”
People wandered up and down the street taking photos with cell phones and digital cameras. “This isn’t even the worst-off area,” one man said.
One block over, the façade of a white six-story residential building had sheared off, leaving one side of the apartments open to the air. Each living room had a television set untouched by the earthquake. But in the cascade of rubble at the foot of the building, a lifeless head and arm stuck out of the debris, and another body could be seen on the other side of the mound of rubble.
Across the street, a young man and his older sister walked out of an apartment building with a red duffel bag and armloads of bedding they stacked on the sidewalk.
“Everything in the apartment was destroyed,” said the man, Ji Yongtao, 27, waving a hand up at the second floor. “We need to find a place to live. We’ll spend the night in a building that was recently built, or on the first floor somewhere. We’re not going back up there.”
Dozens of people had gathered on the sidewalk by a major intersection down the street. They were constructing a huge tent, pulling a tarp over upright wooden poles they had lashed together. This would be their home for the day, and maybe the night, and maybe the next few days and nights.
Busloads of soldiers rode past in the street. But there was no immediate help for the people.
“We left with nothing but the clothes we’re wearing,” said Hu Huojin, 38, cradling her 6-year-old son in her arms. “We don’t dare stay in our homes. We’ll return when we’re told it’s safe to go back. Otherwise, we don’t dare live there.”
She gazed out at the wet street.
“I can’t even remember how long the ground shook,” she said. “It was enormous.”
An elderly couple stood under a store awning on the edge of the tent village. The man held the family dog, Chou Mer, but they had not seen their son, a cab driver, since he left home hours before the earthquake.
“We still haven’t heard from him,” said the mother, Yang Limei, 58. “Last night, we kept calling him, but we couldn’t get through. I don’t know what to do. We can’t even wait for him at home.”
Her husband, Chui Xianchao, 63, said, “The walls are still standing, but everything else fell to the ground.”
Ambulances roared by on the way to the hospitals in Chengdu, the provincial capital. Another bus rolled past carrying soldiers.
The army had appropriated public buses throughout the region, and men wearing green fatigues peered out the windows at the homeless in the street.
“No one’s come to help us yet,” Mr. Chui said. “Those soldiers are going somewhere else.”
A few miles to the south, in front of the collapsed school, a half-dozen soldiers linked hands to form a human blockade in front of the rubble. Two women tried to push their way through. The soldiers did not budge.
“There are still children in there, and we can’t help them if you keep trying to get in,” one soldier said.
The only people allowed in were teams of rescue workers and doctors. A group of doctors in white lab coats sat in a bus, waiting their turn to help. Some slept. They said no one had been brought out alive in hours.