Within 2 hours of the actual earthquake, premier Wen Jiabao was on a plane to Chengdu. Upon landing, he was on the scene at the devastated city of Dujiangyan within hours. He has barely slept over the last 24-30 hours, personally attending to details on the scene. He has been in almost constant tears, doing what little he can to help. He has been quoted as saying to government officials: “Only one sentence: the people feed you, you know what you must do.”
The death toll continues to rise. The worst devastation appears to be in Beichuang, where basically the entire county-town has been leveled. The People’s Liberation Army and Armed Police have double-time marched into the area, but they could not bring heavy equipment. They can only provide basic comfort at this time; trapped school-children are calling out to them… “uncles, please help!” Villagers are being evacuated slowly, leaving behind probably half of the original population of Beichuang in the ruins.
Beijing has been remarkably open with covering this entire tragedy, not pulling a single punch. Images of children crushed and trapped within schools are on the front-pages of all Chinese newspapers and websites. Every resource within China is being brought in. The Olympic torch relay has been drastically modified. The route has been shrunk, and there will be a minute of silence in memory of those lost. Donation boxes will be setup around the route; the relay will now be a chance to raise money for the victims.
An elite airborne paratrooper unit (15th Airborne Corps) was widely reported to have been planning to parachute into the heart of the devastation yesterday, with road access still cut off. With horrible weather, many expected a very high casualty rate amongst the paratroopers; many reportedly wrote their last wills in preparation. With weather growing even worse in this mountainous area, however, this desperate measure was postponed for now.
Nations and people around the world have offered their sympathies and assistance. The Dalai Lama has applauded Beijing’s remarkably quick response to the earthquake, and is praying for the souls of the dead. Earthquake rescue teams from every nation stands ready to deploy; in the face of overwhelming support for the government effort so far, this last item is probably the only point of contention in the Chinese world right now. Some in China accuse the Chinese government of wanting to save face, and thus refusing international teams on the ground. However, Taiwanese experts commented that during their earthquake effort a few years back, dealing with international experts (speaking different languages and unfamiliar with the setting) can actually serve as a major distraction in the early hours of such a crisis. Beijing has said it welcomes all aid, and international teams will be welcomed in as soon as the roads into the mountains are cleared.
And yet again during this 2008, the Olympic year, the world’s attention is squarely on China.