Page 2 of 2   <      

China Expedites Vast Rescue Operation

China continues recovery efforts after a devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit central China on May 12, 2008, and rendered millions of people homeless.

"Beijing sometimes likes the assistance, but it has to be tightly controlled," said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst of Chinese politics. "Local cadres see NGOs as a threat to their authority and an implicit criticism of their policies."

The military announced it had dropped food and medical supplies to badly damaged towns in Wenchuan and Beichuan counties, near the epicenter, and Premier Wen said 100,000 People's Liberation Army soldiers and People's Armed Police paramilitary troops were assigned to help in the rescue operation.

Wen visited Beichuan town, which was largely destroyed by the quake. With cameras of the Communist Party's China Central Television looking on, he put his arm around a woman and two young girls and pledged that the party would do its best to take care of them.

"Your suffering is our suffering," he told them. "The party and the government care about everybody."

The Associated Press said a 34-year-old pregnant woman, Zhang Xiaoyan, was pulled out from under concrete rubble in Dujiangyan after spending 50 hours under the debris. In the Beichuan region, a 3-year-old girl, identified as Song Xinyi, was eased out from under the bodies of her parents, where she had lain since Monday in a collapsed building, the New China News Agency said.

Wen has been visiting scenes of devastation since soon after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck. His message -- encouragement for rescue workers and compassion for quake victims -- has been widely reported in the party's official media, portraying a leadership firmly in charge and deeply concerned about the plight of the people.

The effort has paid off here in Fuxin. "Wen Jiabao went to Beichuan today. We have good leaders," said Bi Minfa, 62, a peasant who surveyed the destruction from under his conical straw hat.

The surge in rescue efforts could also be seen near Dujiangyan. A group of aid workers from Shanghai, wearing bright-orange jumpsuits and hard hats, carried extraction equipment including chain saws, bolt cutters and power tools up the road north of town.

Meanwhile, Beijing hospitals sent small numbers of personnel to Sichuan to assist quake victims. Luo Yan, a nurse from Jishuitan Hospital in the capital, said her group arrived in Mianyang on Tuesday evening and tried to travel north to aid victims on Wednesday. The road became impassable, though, forcing the group to return to Mianyang. She was told severely injured victims would be brought there, but by 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, none had arrived.

In Fuxin, Bi and other parents blamed the collapse of a primary school on shoddy materials, which they said were the result of corruption by officials responsible for making sure the school was safe. To back up their contention, they pointed out that the teachers' dormitory on one side and the administrative offices on the other stood firm, while the classrooms in the center buckled immediately, killing 300 children. Nearby homes also remained intact, they noted, unable to believe the quake's targets were just random.

"The whole thing was corrupt," said a mother who declined to give her name.

For Liu Nongyuan, however, the drama was elsewhere. Nongyuan, 9, was also a pupil at Fuxin No. 2 Primary School and was supposed to have been in class when the earthquake struck. He escaped the fate of his classmates, he said, only because he had lingered outside in a playground behind the building.

Fan reported from Beijing. Correspondent Jill Drew in Dujiangyan contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company