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The Earthquake Posted by on May 13, 2008 in News

Letter Home, May 12, 6:44pm

Just wanted to let you know all is well here in Beijing. Of course, why wouldn’t it be? Well, I was sitting here this afternoon on my couch on the 18th floor when I started to feel like maybe I was a little drunk. Or dizzy. Or dreaming. You see, the whole building was SWAYING. I stood up and hoped the sensation would pass, but it didn’t, and the lights were clinking together and the doors were swinging back and forth and the laundry hanging by the window was dancing and that’s when it occurred to me that what we had here was an earthquake. I ran to tell Oscar, my Spanish roommate, in his room that it was an earthquake and I was fleeing the premises. He was sitting there watching something or other on his computer and laughing at the screen and was generally oblivious, as he’d thought that the sensation was just shifting in his chair. I think that my wild-eyed panic scared him into action, but I can’t be sure, because I was out the door and running into the hall so fast, all I had time for was to grab my wallet, keys, and let’s not forget the cigarettes. As I hightailed it out of there, I practically collided with a Mexican guy from our floor who was running to our place to find out what was happening. So I fled the building, taking out 18 flights of stairs in about 1 minute flat. Came barreling out the front door of my apartment building into a scene of pure and utter… normalcy. There was nobody out there. I thought I’d been dreaming, but Oscar and the Mexican guy followed about 1 minute later, and it wasn’t until five minutes afterwards that others trickled out. Not many, mind you, just a few who had places on the top floors. Mostly foreigners too, people from places that had some experience with shifting earth. Central Asians, Mexicans. People on the lower floors hadn’t felt anything and didn’t come out. It was bizarre and I felt like a bit of a coward, but after all, nobody ever died from being a coward. I vote with my survival instinct. I went back inside about 20 minutes later, got a call from my Chinese friend out in Qinghai province who said they’d had the earthquake out there as well. Apparently the epicenter was out in the Chengdu area of Sichuan, and there’s something like 100 people dead with the toll supposed to go quite a bit higher. Magnitude 7.8 out there. Something like 3.9 here. I’ll check out the news tonight and report back. But wow, it was mighty scary.

The Reality

The New China News Agency News Agency (Xinhua), 24 hours after writing the above letter, is reporting that the quake in Sichuan was much, much more devastating than I had originally guessed. While I smile about how I hightail it out of a highrise to save my own skin, there’s really nothing funny about what’s happened in the West. My little tremor here in Beijing was nothing compared to the magnitude of the destruction and loss of life in Sichuan province. Estimates are of 12,000 dead with close to another 20,000 people missing in Mianyang City and Mianzhu village, in the county of Wenchuan at the earthquakes epicenter. The Chinese authorities are working through the night and rain to reach survivors, and have welcomed foreign aid. It’s been a rough year for China so far.

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