Echoes of 2008 in Sichuan Earthquake ; Fear and Frustration Grip Area Even as China Acts Quickly with Relief Effort

Article excerpt

The aftermath is not nearly as serious as the Wenchuan quake along the same fault line five years ago. But as the death toll rose to 174, officials rushed in aid, mindful of failings in the previous rescue effort.

Residents of this tiny village in the mountainous region of southwestern China spent Sunday digging out from an earthquake that had killed at least 174 people and injured thousands more, and was the worst to hit the area since a devastating quake in 2008.

The Chinese authorities put the magnitude of the quake, which struck early Saturday, at 7. Roofs buckled, walls tumbled and windows broke after the earthquake shook houses and sent boulders tumbling down mountainsides onto the narrow road that leads into this valley of Lushan County near the epicenter of the earthquake. By Saturday night, many residents had sought shelter in tents and other makeshift housing, too scared to sleep in their flimsy homes.

The aftermath was not nearly as serious as the 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 2008 that left more than 70,000 people dead in the Wenchuan area. But villagers who work in Chengdu, about 160 kilometers, or 100 miles, away, streamed back home Sunday morning, many on foot, the lucky ones on motorbikes, to check on their homes.

Song Yuanqing, 43, a construction worker, arrived back after a 22- hour trip to find his roof and the walls unstable. "We would like to do something, but we can't do anything," Mr. Song said as he sat with neighbors around an outdoor fire built by the village leader in his backyard. Some people had slept under the machinery at a lumber yard. The village leader, Gao Zaimeng, said his house -- a two- story concrete structure that is one of the best in town -- shook violently. "More violent than in 2008," he said. Although his house was intact, he was too nervous to risk sleeping or cooking inside, he said.

About 50 soldiers attached to the People's Liberation Army's regional headquarters in Chengdu marched in formation along the main village street, armed with shovels and picks to help shore up buildings. In all, the government deployed about 7,000 soldiers and People's Armed Police officers to the affected area. By Saturday evening, there were so many rescue workers in the area that the government asked volunteers to stop coming.

Prime Minister Li Keqiang, perhaps mindful of the criticism of the rescue efforts in 2008, flew to the area and slept in a tent in Lushan County on Saturday evening.

The earthquake shook Sichuan Province at 8 a. …