YA’AN, China – Xia Donghai was 900 miles from his family when word came April 20 that a major earthquake had struck his hometown. Unable to get through with phone calls, the frantic construction worker spent almost half his monthly salary to catch a plane – his first flight ever – and join the massive tide of breadwinners trying to make their way back home and learn the fate of their families.
“I am filled with terror, I do not know what I will find when I return to the family home,” Xia told a reporter. He is one of 230 million workers from impoverished provinces who migrated to China’s booming coastal areas in search of jobs to provide for their families. At the end of his flight, Xia found he was among thousands of others trying to find rides into the earthquake zone. He climbed uninvited into a car, but blocked roads and congestion prevented progress, so he got out and began pleading with motorcyclists for a ride home.
A family in rural Sichuan, China, surveys damage to their home and wonders how they will rebuild. Ninety percent of all the homes in the area of China struck by an earthquake April 20 were either destroyed or so seriously damaged that they are unlivable.
BGR International, the Singapore headquarters of Baptist Global Response, is focusing its initial relief effort on getting water purification machines into the 30 counties and towns China’s government has identified for rebuilding.
“Ninety percent of all the homes in the cities, towns and countryside were either destroyed or so seriously damaged that they are unlivable,” said Pat Melancon, BGRI’s managing director of disaster response and training. “The government is trying to group 3,000 to 5,000 people at a time into tent communities. Those who are living in the countryside are pitching tents near their damaged homes.”
The earthquake affected 2 million people, according to news reports. The death toll stands at 196, with 21 missing and 13,484 injured. Rescue efforts have largely ceased and the focus is shifting to recovery and rehabilitation, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife Pam leads BGRI work in the Asia Rim.
“All the water sources in the cities have been damaged so we are having to pull water in from the polluted rivers to be filtered. And, we are needing to find water wells but the wells found thus far have not been in easy access to the tent communities,” Wolf said. “We have not seen any toilets brought in or built either, so sanitation also is a problem.”
Among other needs in the quake zone: baby formula/powder, vitamins for pregnant women and children, food for diabetics, women’s hygiene and water-deflecting tarps.
Water purification machines have been delivered and additional machines are ready to be sent, thanks to the efforts of volunteers working alongside nationals, Wolf added. Doctors and medicine are available in the cities but not in the countryside. Relief teams are looking for ways to walk in medicines to survivors in the countryside.
“The situation in the remote areas is critical,” Wolf said. “Blocked roads are making the delivery of relief supplies very difficult. Please ask God to give comfort and preserve lives until assistance can arrive. Pray that our relief efforts would help people understand God’s love for them and discover the new lives He offers as they rebuild from the earthquake. Pray that those who are returning to search for their families will be able to find them – and encounter the compassion of God’s people as well.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response.)