On foot, bike, Chinese offer aid to quake victims

By Ben Blanchard, Reuters

MIANYANG, China — Chinese volunteers trooped into quake-hit areas on Wednesday on foot, bicycle and in their cars in an outpouring of generosity toward those left homeless and grieving by Monday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake.

At the edges of the worst-hit region, many who narrowly escaped disaster themselves descended on the Sichuan city of Mianyang, where about 10,000 survivors gathered at a sports ground seeking food and shelter.

“We just have to help,” said one woman, dishing out rice porridge to anyone who asked from the back of her pedicab. “We live just around the corner from the stadium,” she said.

Around the grounds, residents had left plastic bags and fertilizer sacks of donated clothes that survivors picked their way through.

“We feel very moved that people are looking after us and that so many have come here to support us,” said Li Bowei, 34, from the nearby area of Beichuan. The rural county has seen some of the worst devastation from Monday’s quake that has killed nearly 15,000 people.

Pictures from Beichuan showed streets where not a single building stood. Survivors lay dazed on the ground next to the dead and army rescuers struggled to reach the mountainous area.

Authorities closed the road to Beichuan to inbound traffic to allow survivors to leave and many streamed toward Mianyang.

State radio broadcast appeals for people to give food, water, equipment, and blood, as well as appeals for people to be patient and wait for aid. Taxi drivers also joined the rescue efforts.

“I dropped everything to get over to Dujiangyan,” said driver Ran Ruimin, referring to the town about 50 km (30 miles) from the provincial capital Chengdu where some 900 students were buried in the rubble of their collapsed school.

“I took water up there and brought back survivors to the hospital (in Chengdu). The person I took to hospital was covered in blood,” he said.

But in case anyone forgets the government and ruling Communist Party’s role in providing aid, state radio was quick to remind them and call on people yet to receive help to be patient.

“The people and the Party breathe as one to overcome the disaster,” public service announcments said, backing by stirring partiotic music.

“Please be patient. Those behind the scenes are working as hard as possible to get aid to you.”

Despite the generosity and goodwill across what is a poor area of steep hills, where farmers grow oranges, peppercorns and vegetables, the needs are massive.

In the worst-hit areas — Beichuan, as well as Wenchuan county to the southwest — blocked roads mean aid has been slow to arrive, and army troops have to hike in on foot.

State run Xinhua news agency said Beichuan was in urgent need of 50,000 tents, 200,000 blankets and 300,000 coats, as well as drinking water and medicine.

The air force dropped 9.1 tons of medicine, quilts and radios to Wenchuan and neighboring areas on Wednesday, Xinhua reported.

Efforts to parachute soldiers in the day before were stymied by heavy rain, which has left survivors huddled under muddy tarpaulins. Paramilitary People’s Armed Police soldiers said Wenchuan needed 35 tons of food per day, as well as 12,000 tents to shelter the homeless. Helicopters were expected to drop the aid later in the day, Xinhua said.

The first batch of international aid, a donation from Russia, was expected to arrive in Chengdu on Wednesday, Xinhua said.

An aid worker with the agency Mercy Corps said they had had requests for protective clothing, and that medicine and surgical supplies were likely to be among the most urgent needs.

In Mianyang, people gave what they could.

Li Jing, an 18-year-old student, arrived with a group of friends, lugging bottles of water to distribute.

“I wanted to help,” she said. “I feel great pain for the victims.”