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AmeriCares staff member Dennis Brown traveled from AmeriCares head office in Stamford to China to oversee our relief efforts following the 7.9-magnitude earthquake which struck China’s Sichuan Province on May 12. More than 80,000 people are dead or missing, hundreds of thousands have been injured and millions have been left homeless. Here he shares some of his impressions while in the field:
I was originally slated to go into Myanmar to support our relief efforts there following Cyclone Nargis, but when we learned about the earthquake, I was diverted to China. The situation here has been very different than what I experienced in Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami, because the Chinese government has an incredible ability to mobilize people and supplies, so relief efforts were underway quite quickly. It was impressive to see the speed at which they cleared the roads and got relief out. People are sheltered in tents and are receiving medical care, and we see a military presence that is armed with cell phones rather than weapons, helping people with their daily needs, even things like trying to get the next rice crop in the ground.
It is a bit surreal, though, because the difference with this disaster is that it keeps going on and on. There have been more than 4,000 aftershocks with different epicenters, including the 6.4-magnitude one the weekend of May 24, when six people died. These cause new landslides which can block roads and present challenges to delivering relief supplies. These landslides are also forming new lakes that present flood risks, and the people who have been displaced nearby are then forced to move again. Some people have been moved three times.
The destruction here is just massive. It is so sad. I can’t help but focus on the children, because I look at them and see my own kids. I was in Xiange, where the village center is now a group of tents in a pile of rubble. The primary school here lost six children and the middle school lost 300. You can’t imagine how horrific it was for the families. I look at the kids who remain and they need to play, they are just desperate to play. You should have seen their joy when we cleared the rubble off a basketball court for them and they were able to play again. The resilience of the children was especially touching to see.
All the medicines AmeriCares delivered into China are out, and the blankets have been distributed. There isn’t much lacking here in terms of emergency medicines now. The big need is for ongoing health care infrastructure for the hundreds of thousands of survivors. Our team has spent the bulk of our time negotiating with the government to lay the groundwork for the AmeriCares donation of a field hospital in Qingchuan, a remote area in northern Sichuan Province where the hospital was destroyed by the earthquake. We have reached an agreement and our logistics experts are now working on making that happen.
Editor’s Note: Dennis Brown was in China from May 16-29. An AmeriCares team continues to work in Sichuan Province, overseeing the opening of a field hospital that will provide primary health care services to a community of 250,000 people.
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