Day 6 in China with Save the Children

The aftershock is as bad as a second earthquake

There was an aftershock yesterday – the largest earthquake since May 12th. It was 6.4 on the Richter scale。

Our emergency response manager has advised us not to think of it as an aftershock, but as a second earthquake. If just yesterday’s quake had happened in another country, it would have hit the news. Unfairly, it’s happened in this same province just a fortnight after May 12th so people just think of it as a dim echo of something they already know about.

I was walking when it happened so wasn’t able to judge if it was an aftershock to be reckoned with. I realised it was quickly enough when hundreds of people started pouring out of their buildings and looking up fearfully at the walls. I made my way back to my hotel to check in with the rest of the Save the Children staff and saw someone scuttling over to plaster up a crack that had appeared in the lobby ceiling. That should definitely help me sleep tonight.

This earthquake killed at least one more person, and brought another 70,000 buildings crashing down to the ground. Hundreds more were seriously injured by the falling walls. The more there are earthquakes like these, the more children will be affected. Our protection team here are sometimes only catching 5 hours sleep a night and news of a set back like this will add to their stress. It’s like someone’s just moved the finishing line further away when we’ve already set off.

In a stadium in a town called Mianzhu, we’ve set up some big green tents where 300 can play and finally start to tease out their fears under the supervision of volunteers trained by Save the Children child psychologists. Yesterday’s aftershock toppled one small child’s building blocks as the tremors rang out. “It’s ok!”, the children then called to one of our staff members. “We’re safe – the tent didn’t fall down!”. I spoke with one boy, Neu Tan Kai, the next morning and he told me he was woken by aftershocks all the time.

Many of the children in Save the Children’s centre come from the surrounding towns, Han Wang, which I visited to try and understand what it is the children I’m now seeing every day have been through.

Han Wang is just half an hour away. The drive up into the town showed how the last earthquake sent so many thousands more houses tumbling.

Walls were folded down on houses, still holding together, but bent over inside houses like carpets. Some rooves had just flattened out the top floors of houses, like a camel’s back legs folding in half as it sits down. And I’d say about 90-95% of the remaining houses showed signs of damage.

Rows and rows of houses had no windows as though they’d been built that way. Most had serious cracks, or gaps in the walls where bricks had been shaken out of their homes, and entire sections of huge buildings teetered on semi-demolished and buckling brick walls. And, as though someone had just pulled the plug out on the supporting ground, whole lift shafts and staircases had dropped out of blocks of flats. A small breath of air looked like it could bring half of the remaining houses down in the pile of dust. Another large aftershock will do just that.

Reports are now circulating about dams breaking, and floods coming too. Mianyang families (who I wrote about in previous entries) were almost all evacuated from the area yesterday because of the fear of floods. These consistent challenges are coming thick and fast for these children. Though I know from talking to these children how resilient they are, we urgently need to support that resilience by offering them the protection and care they need.

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