The devastation of the Chinese earthquake
Went back to Mianyang again. The stadium of 30,000 people was being shifted to buses, and then taken to a new space where tents had been set up. “10 per tent. One food bag per person for the bus,” a man was shouting through a megaphone.
Families gathered their one bag of belongings and dragged them along the floor to the bus. Children were holding onto their parents’ trouser legs as they kept up. Most wore masks provided by the government to keep up sanitation levels. As they waited patiently to get their food and next orders, white clad men walked around with big whirring machines in backpacks that spewed out strong-smelling chlorine making sure that everyone and everything was disinfected. An outbreak of disease now would be fatal.
“We’re moving to a new county,” one man told me when I asked where they were going. “Our only worry is where we will get work again. Our house fell down, and our farms are flooded. We’re happy that they’re taking such good care of us, though. We’ve really everything here that we need.” At some point, I thought, the novelty of this situation will wear off and the stark lack of stability these people face will hit home. Practically everyone in that stadium has lost someone who’s close to them. That grief will rise to the surface too as time goes by.
But there were a few glimpses of heartwarming stories in there. Making my way into the basketball court in the centre of the stadium, I stumbled upon a room of mothers with newborns. There I met Gao Mang, a true fighter of a mother, who was heavily pregnant when her house fell down on her last week. Her mother in law had been outside at the time and just managed to find Gao Mang lying thankfully not too far buried under the rubble. She dug her daughter in law out from the rubble with her hands and saved her life. Transported by bus to this stadium where I now found her, the mother had given birth to her baby son. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear good news”, I told her. I meant it.
Inside the gym, red rows of felt carpet were laid out on the floor, demarcating the boundaries within which people could sleep. A large screen usually used for showing scores in a basketball game was blaring out the national tv station, and calming music blaring out on the tanoi. Inside, I met five young boys (14 years old) sitting together on their sleeping bags. They had all been at the same school together and had followed their parents or teachers onto large trucks that brought them to the stadium 8 days ago. They were now being cared for by their teachers while their parents went back to start trying to rebuild their lives or find lost relatives. “Several days ago there were thousands of people in here with us.” Xia Goa Chang, one of the boys, told me, “At night, they leave the lights on and in the day time there’s a tv playing. It’s not too bad.. What we need most now is books and clothes, though. I haven’t changed my clothes since the earthquake.”
As I was there, government officials arrived and handed out bags of toys. These boys, aged 14, were delighted at being given squidgy teddies of Pokemon – toys I knew they would have dismissed before as being for children younger than them. Now, they were delighted at having anything to play with. “It’s still a bit scary now” said one of the elder boys, “But because there’s help from all corners of the country, it helps a lot. We just want to go home now, but know that will take some time.”
I know it will take ages. Their entire town disintegrated last week.
Save the Children is working with children in temporary camps giving them safe areas to play, work through their experiences and start learning again. Child psychologists will be there helping the children interact with each other and relieving parents for a while of their care so they have the chance to rebuild their lives.
Save the Children has launched an appeal for $5 million to support its emergency response in China.