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29 October 2014

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You are in: Somerset > People > People > Chinese earthquake caused 'unbelievable devastation'


80,000 people are homeless in one area

Chinese earthquake caused 'unbelievable devastation'

A Somerset man has travelled to the epicentre of the Chinese earthquake with the Cornish charity Shelterbox to hand out vital survival kits. Follow his progress here.

Thomas Lay from Glastonbury has finally arrived at the epicentre of the Chinese earthquake.

The 24-year-old is there as part of a two-man team delivering survival kits to some of the people who have been made homeless.

Shelterbox have committed themselves to delivering 2,500 tents and 1,400 boxes. The Chinese authorities have said 250,000 tents are needed.


Thomas has been busy handing out and putting up some of the first 200 boxes which have arrived.

The tents will provide temporary accommodation for around 2,000 people. 

Shelterbox unloading an aid box

200 boxes have arrived

The army have already been to the area to flatten all of the houses so that restructuring can begin. 

Thomas said he was enjoying putting the tents up as it's what "he's there to do".

At the moment he is due to leave on 2 June however Shelterbox will be there "until the job is done".


Aftershocks have been felt throughout the region since the initial earthquake on 12 May. At the weekend an aftershock saw 63 people injured, six critically, in the Qingchuan county.

"You prepare yourself for piles of rubble but when you see it, it's just something else. The enormity is far bigger than anything I have seen before."

Thomas Lay

"The feeling of aftershocks is causing the people to panic and they are still living out in the streets even though they don't need to as they still have a home. They're traumatised and there's an enormous deep insecurity," said Thomas. 

He said he did feel the earthquake however as he was in the Cheng Du city which is a 2.5hr drive away, little damage was caused.

"From what I have seen, the Chinese government and the military in particular are doing a fantastic job. They're moving where they can as a wave towards the fault line.

"They've got an enormous number of personal soldiers here and they're making the building safe. They're giving the tents they have for themselves to the villagers and the food and water is being supplied to the people who are affected by this."

Thomas said search and rescue teams had to blast their way through mud slides in order to visit remote villages which can only be accessed via windy mountainous roads. 

Chinese army clearing a house

Thomas said the miltary were fantastic

"The people in these villages are either living under the stars or they're living under a very, very basic small tarpaulin-type shelter."

Thomas said one of the villages he visited need 300 tents, the next village he went to needed 1,500 tents and the one beyond that needs 2,000 tents.

The charity has been given free air travel by Air China to fly as often as they need to direct from the UK to Cheng-Du.

"If we have the money come in, we can send more tents. The Chinese government say they need 3.5m and due to the numbers needed which I've come across today, I can fully believe it," said Thomas.

Chinese girls sleeping in a refugee camp

Over 10m people have been made homeless


The earthquake has brought out a show of unity amongst the Chinese. Banners and flags with slogans saying 'together we will unite against the earthquake' are stretched across cars.

Thomas said the victims have reacted to the devastation fantastically. In one area he visited, 3,000 people refused tents saying the people further up the mountain needed them more.

After all the devastation the earthquake has caused, it seems it hasn't quite finished causing havoc.

Thomas says the most frightening aftershock was when he was back at the hotel as he is staying on the 21st floor.

"They (the Chinese people) are continuing with their daily life. There's no way of predicting the aftershocks; it's just one of the things they have to live with," he said.

On Friday Thomas spent the day assessing the needs of people who are stranded in remote villages.

He said he has heard reports that around 80,000 people are "sleeping under the stars" in the remote area of Quingchuan. Along with three other Shelterbox volunteers, Thomas will be making the six hour drive to the area on Saturday to offer aid.

Thomas added that Shelterbox was the only foreign aid agency working in the area. The team are working with the Chinese Charity Federation.


Thomas has now reached the area which has been the hardest hit by the earthquake. The mountainous region in the Sichuan province is a couple of hours' drive from the city of Chengdu which is where he's staying.

The team are currently searching for areas in which to put the tents up.

He said the impact of the earthquake is 'devastating'. Complete towns and villages have been destroyed and rubble is everywhere.

Chinese woman in a refugee camp

"The enormity is far bigger than I have ever seen before. There's piles of rubble everywhere.

"I've just driven past a building which has just flattened on top of a rickshaw which was being stored in a garage. I'm now driving past a block of flats which have crumbled away completely. The devastation is just unbelievable."

A total of 51,000 people have died while 30,000 are reported as missing. Thomas said he has not seen or heard of anymore survivors being pulled out. The authorities have just changed the status of the effort from rescue to relief and have moved entire villages into the city.

"You prepare yourself for piles of rubble but when you see it, it's just something else. The enormity is far bigger than anything I have seen before."


Thomas arrived in the city of Cheng-Du in the Sichuan province of southern China late on Tuesday. 

He told BBC Somerset that entire communities are camping out on the streets even though their homes are fine because they are petrified of aftershocks.

He said he hasn't seen a lot of structural damage to buildings, however the fact that people are too scared to stay in their homes "highlights the insecurities the province has within themselves of what mother nature can do".

Around 10m people have been made homeless by the earthquake, however half are believed to be living with extended families.

Thousands have turned to living on outdoor tennis courts with a corrugated tin roof covering them.

In the next couple of days Thomas will be making his way to the frontline to see the worst affected areas.

He said the Chinese authorities had been really helpful and that he was mentally prepared to see areas which have been more devastatingly affected by the earthquake.

We'll be following Thomas and his quest to help the victims of the earthquake online at and on BBC Somerset's Big Breakfast, 95.5fm and 1566am. 

last updated: 28/05/2008 at 13:35
created: 21/05/2008

You are in: Somerset > People > People > Chinese earthquake caused 'unbelievable devastation'

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