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AmeriCares photographer Christopher Rowan was in China last month to document construction of the AmeriCares field hospital in Qingchuan. The hospital has since opened and a second field hospital is planned for Xuankou Township in Wenchuan County, the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake.
The AmeriCares field hospital in Qingchuan under construction.As we drove through the rural villages of Sichuan Province, wreckage from the earthquake a month earlier was all around us. There were stone buildings with walls missing and roofs caved in. In between, small tent villages had sprung up because frequent aftershocks prevented survivors from returning to their homes.
When we arrived in Qingchuan, where we were going to build a field hospital to serve a population of 250,000, we saw more of the same government-issued blue tents. While some of the tallest structures were still standing, they were damaged beyond use, leaving a ghost town of vacant buildings in what had been a bustling community only days before. Survivors entered buildings only briefly to retrieve valuables at great risk. At that time, there were still four or five aftershocks daily.
One afternoon we witnessed part of a concrete balcony fall off an apartment building about 20 feet from where we were working. It landed on top of a pile of rubble and no one was hurt, but it was a stark reminder of the danger at hand.
Since Qingchuan is so crowded and there’s so little vacant land, we built the field hospital next to buildings still swaying and shaking from the aftershocks. It’s difficult, I think, for Americans to imagine just how close everyone lives in China. There was nowhere else for it to go.
The field hospital replaced a temporary clinic, pictured above, which only treated outpatients.
By the time I left a week later, the government was beginning to replace the tents with sturdier, temporary housing made of Styrofoam panels held together by metal frames. The entire town will have to be rebuilt over the next several years, and I wonder, “What will they build first – the schools, the hospitals or the houses?”
Our field hospital — a series of air conditioned tents with an operating room, maternity ward, a laboratory and other facilities — allows local authorities to focus on other buildings in the short-term. It will serve as the area’s primary medical facility for several months, possibly even years, until a more permanent facility is built.
Hospital employees, who were living in tents next to the construction site, were relieved to have a generator that would allow the facility to retain electricity during power outages. They were also pleased to have a climate-controlled environment since temperatures often reach 100 degrees in the summer and dip low enough for snow in the winter. The medical staff couldn’t have been more eager to have the field hospital, or more appreciative of our work. They pitched in during the construction, some going so far as to clear rocks with their bare hands. When it was finished they thanked us profusely.
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