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Rains Slow Rescue Process in China


From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, an American woman's account of surviving China's big earthquake.

BRAND: But first, rescue workers labored to find survivors under the rubble in southwest China, after a massive earthquake toppled schools and hospitals. Heavy rain has slowed the progress of the rescue teams. Thousands of people are dead now. All Things Considered's Robert Siegel is there in Chengdu. And Robert, you were out reporting today. What did you see?

ROBERT SIEGEL: Well, I went out to the area that was hardest hit by the earthquake. These are small mountain villages to the north, in this case, the northeast of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan. And I got as far as a village where 90 percent of the houses were crushed and destroyed by the earthquake, where somewhere between 200 and 300 people were killed, just typical of what's going on in some of those small villages.

BRAND: Now, as you say, these are small villages in a mountainous region. Is it difficult, then, for rescuers to reach these villages and to help people?

SIEGEL: It has been difficult, and what you have on the road that leads out through this area and other roads, I believe, is you have rock slides. And the roads are cut into the mountains, and the earthquake shook loose rocks, in some case, huge boulders the size of SUVs, in some cases, and in other cases, entire mountainsides seemed to collapse on villages.

When that happens, it blocks the roads, and right after the earthquake, it posed problems for the army as it was trying to get troops out to do relief work. They just couldn't pass through the roads. Now, much of the way you see a lot of buses and dump trucks. You'll see a dump truck go by with a tarp over the back of it, and you see peeking out from under the tarp, it was raining today, so that the tarp is over, are people. They're coming out in buses and trucks and cars and ambulances and vehicles of all sorts.

BRAND: What about - what are you seeing in terms of official response? I know that the Chinese premier was there yesterday, and that seems to be in stark difference to what happened in the last major earthquake a generation ago.

SIEGEL: Yes. Premier Wen made an appearance at the town of Dujiangyan. The people we spoke to who had heard him were very grateful that he had shown up. More to the point, in the hours right after the earthquake, the authorities declared this a top priority, number one to evacuate the injured, and the expressway north out of Chengdu, north out of this very big city where we are, the provincial capital, was limited to emergency vehicles.

And there was a steady stream, just one ambulance after another, going north. Medics in the towns got the wounded into the ambulances, and the ambulances turned around and went back south, either to Chengdu or other cities where there were hospitals that could treat them. So, the response in terms of eventually getting soldiers to these places, to supply order and to do some digging, and also, medical assistance was very, very prompt. As for food and water, everybody seems to be saying they need more and more medical supplies, so I suppose much is yet to be done.

BRAND: Well, thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Sure, Madeleine. Good to talk.

BRAND: That's All Things Considered's Robert Siegel, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more of him later today on All Things Considered. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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