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Rumour and alarm

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James Reynolds | 18:55 UK time, Monday, 19 May 2008

In the last few days in Sichuan province, rumour, warning, and false alarm have played as big a part as anything else.

On Saturday, my colleagues and I were filming in the ruins of Beichuan when word came of a flood warning. Soldiers yelled at everyone to get out (the town's in a valley - so a flood would be pretty devastating). 

We found ourselves scrambling as fast as we could with thousands of others to reach higher ground before the waters came (a surreal, slightly scary experience at the time). In the end, the flood warning turned out to be a false alarm.

This morning, rescuers in Beichuan started digging for a possible survivor underneath the rubble of an apartment building. On Sunday, a man who owned an apartment on the fifth floor of the building came back to the ruins of his home and said he had heard a tapping sound. He suggested that a builder who had come to his flat to install an indoor garden might still be alive and trapped inside.

A rescue began. More than 100 soldiers and emergency workers got to work (I watched them along with dozens of other reporters and camera crews.) As we waited, word went round that the man trapped could be a 40-year-old builder.

Soldiers stood by with an intravenous drip and a metal stretcher. Emergency workers linked arms and cleared the way for a waiting ambulance. China's Executive Vice-Premier Li Keqiang (a very important man - who's expected to become China's prime minister in a few years) even stopped by to watch the rescue for a few minutes (those of us standing on the rubble were asked to duck so that he could see what was going on).

But then, into the afternoon, things went quiet. Just before 1600, a soldier shouted to the crowd that he wasn't sure that anyone was alive underneath the rubble (I left Beichuan at about 1800 - at the time the rescue was carrying on at a much slower pace).

Tonight I write from the city of Chengdu (about 3 hours drive from Beichuan).

People here have got word of an earthquake or aftershock warning. I'm told that some have left their homes and have gone to sleep in the park - the safest place to be in case another earthquake happens.

We're not sure whether or not the warning will come to anything. But life in the Sichuan province is full of alarm.


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  • 1. At 9:26pm on 19 May 2008, anita425 wrote:

    yeah, there are aftershocks here in Chongqing-300 kilimeters away from the epicenter of the earthquake.
    hours ago it was broadcasting an official warning repeatly that there would be aftershock between 6-7 in wenchuan.
    i'm in college. people here rapidly left buildings, bringing quilts or even small tents, sleeping on the playground. hundreds, or more than 1000. we took photos-never seen so many people lying on the ground, sleeping, playing cards or computer, reading, chatting. unforgetable.
    so it's easy to imagine how people in the epicenter feel and why there are so many alarms.@_@ dad called in asking me to leave the dorm and told me it's better to believe than to doubt (chinese proverb).
    but i'd rather stay in dorm-it's getting cold midnight.
    and i felt it. slight moving on the floor that you can only feel in builings. maybe it's happening far away, god bless people there. must be a sleepless night.
    no class tomorrow morning.^_^

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  • 2. At 9:27pm on 19 May 2008, studyabroad wrote:

    James, use your heart to report, to bridge up the gap between the two cultures, if you'd report something geniune. I am a native of Beijing and I have been in London for five years. I reckon what you have reported so far.

    2008 is deemed to be an extraordinary year for China, the natural disasters, e.g. the heavy snow, the earthquake..., the Olympic Games...make the most of your stay there

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  • 3. At 11:50pm on 19 May 2008, wingchau wrote:

    I can only get to this blog but nd not other parts of the BBC website. The message I got is "there is no response from the site". Can anyone tell me is the BBC banned again or its just me having problem. BTW I live in China.

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  • 4. At 02:33am on 20 May 2008, meng0823 wrote:

    when you not sure whether or not the warning will come to better take it as a "yes",its a matter of lifes..even though the it might be false again.and the local authority is right to issue those warnings ..They trying to save lifes..

    If they dont ,I can imagine it will give some westerner perfect chance to bash the goverment again just say that the goverment doesnt care about people's lifes since they dont issue warning even they think there is potential risk(aftershock .Dam collapsed) in the area

    by the way .The chinese goverment and lots of chinese are trying their best to help those people in affected area.Did you help them in any ways since you are there?like donation or something like that?
    After reading your blog about the chinese dont seem to have any sympathy towards those people,at least not from what you have writen.

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  • 5. At 04:12am on 20 May 2008, michaelyuri wrote:

    goodwill will change the world including china a beter place.

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  • 6. At 2:31pm on 20 May 2008, fairreport wrote:

    China will overcome all those unfair treatments from the God and the West.

    The God has unfairly thrown huge snowstorm in Feb, and massive earthquake in May.

    The West's conspiracy to humiliate China and to create division and chaos in China by using so-called Tibet issue, during olympic torch relay in April.

    I wonder why the West did not donate big money for the Wenchuan, where 20% of the population are Tibetan and many are dead in the disaster.

    At the end of the day, the small minority of Tibetan(mainly in exile and orginally slave owners) who thought Han-Chinese mistreated them should realise the West is not really caring for their lives. Every Tibetan died in earthquake equally upset me.

    All those just make China and Chinese stronger, more united. I have no doubt China will be number one country in the next 20 -30 years.

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  • 7. At 5:42pm on 20 May 2008, Yankee_fan wrote:

    I am an American living in an earthquake-prone area of the US. We live with earthquakes and the fear of the next one. Here we can easily imagine how terrifying it is for the people in Sichuan, with constant aftershocks. I recently visited China with a school group that was warmly received by the Chinese people. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed and treated with kindness, especially the students. I agree with the comment that good will can change the world. I feel especially hopeful having witnessed the good will of the Chinese people towards our group of young people; the young will be the leaders of tomorrow. Thank you for your reporting on this terrible earthquake. By bringing these personal accounts to the Western world, you help to increase understanding and good will. The people of China are in our prayers here in the States.

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  • 8. At 7:40pm on 20 May 2008, vivachine2008 wrote:

    Dear James,

    It is such a shame that your reporting has been regarded as the major information source regarding to most China issues. And it is a great pity that most British people has to learn most of their knowledge about this mysterious country from your coverage. And yet, THEY FEEL SO GREATFUL!!!!!!!!

    Please be fair with your own countrymates if you dont have any sympathy to Chinese people at their darkest and saddest and most devastating moment. British people are well-educated and kind-hearted, they DESERVE a WHOLE PICTURE about what has been going on in China instead of a trivial even unexisting 'truth' from your narrow-minded even biased news angle selection. On the other hand, partial truth equals to lie, for the sake of the high tax that British people has paid for your trip and food and everything in China, please do a little more to present a comprehensive and professional layout over the topic you are carrying on at the moment. BE FAIR WITH YOUR OWN PEOPLE, dont let them be blinded from your selective 'truth'.

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  • 9. At 8:13pm on 20 May 2008, otherchinese wrote:

    Is there any report on what the seismological society thinks of the 512 earthquake, the aftershock, status of the current best available technology, etc.?

    I think besides the humanitarian relief work, all the scientists who work on predicting earthquakes from around the world should also come together to provide some scientific opinions and helps?

    Is there a global network of earthquake detecting system out there so that scientists from different countries can share data and work together; so that people around the world can be better prepared?

    Perhaps, they are already doing so.

    Take care!

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  • 10. At 07:03am on 21 May 2008, Renee1112 wrote:

    Rumour and alarm is inevitable after a devastating disaster, meanwhile, it is not only rumour or alarm, at least 50% or more truth. LIfe is precious, so every one should be ready for fleeing to a safer place. We can't bear any more unneccary lost of our fellow citizens.

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  • 11. At 08:38am on 21 May 2008, xitilu wrote:

    As a native of Sweden,where we are spared natural disasters, by and large, it is hard to imagine the sheer immensity of this disaster. Numbers say something. Approximately 5 million people are reported to be homeless in the affected area, and that is about half the population of my country.
    As reported on the BBC World-service and also on various Swedish news channels, the Chinese leadership are putting in an all out effort with help and assistance.
    Having a very close friend in Chengdu, and having stayed in the area for a time, makes me feel personally affected by this disaster. The TV-images are uppsetting and disturbing and it is hard not to feel extremely touched by all this. I know there is not a whole lot one person can do, but I am going to see my friend and to try to help in any way I can. I am getting my ticket today. I do not want this to be yet another disaster one reads about or waches on the news without doing something.
    How can I help?

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  • 12. At 02:58am on 23 May 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:


    Another compiling blog....

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