Chinese Sleep in Tents for Fear of Big Aftershock
In China, the government has offered some new numbers that measure the magnitude of the problems that lie ahead: just over 40,000 confirmed deaths, 5 million people without homes.
Set against that last number, the government's announcement that 280,000 tents have been shipped to the area seems very short of the mark. An additional 700,000 have been ordered, the government says, and factories are working triple shifts to meet demand.
It didn't help that the Sichuan Provincial Seismological Bureau forecast a big aftershock late Monday night, a forecast it began backing away from Tuesday.
The city of Chengdu, with a population of 4.5 million, is about 60 miles south of the epicenter of the May 12 quake. According to the same seismological authorities Tuesday, the city is not in danger.
But that earlier, dubious forecast on the television news led to a panic in Chengdu Monday night and to a run on tents Tuesday morning.
At Jin Jian Athletics Store, there was a line first thing Tuesday morning.
A woman who wouldn't tell NPR's Robert Siegel her name opened a tent she had bought to make sure all the parts were there. She paid 400 yuan, or about $55, for a model that sleeps two. For a Chinese migrant laborer, that could easily be a couple of weeks' pay. The crowd in Chengdu was definitely more prosperous than that.
She said her house is safe, but she bought the tent to protect her child in case of an aftershock.
"We're afraid of it," she says.
At Old Soldier Outdoors, a pricier sporting goods store, an oil worker named Huang had his cell phone in one hand and his brand new, 650-yuan tent in the other.
"Yes, yes, I just got it, you should hurry up, get in line," said Huang. He said the store was almost out of tents.
Liu Juan, who works as a representative of a South China manufacturing company, had a 6-year-old girl in tow and three new tents. She said they were for her parents, sister and daughter. They slept outside Monday night because of the reports they saw on TV, she said.
On Monday night, people heard the announcement and rushed to the soccer stadium grounds — if not out of town. On Tuesday, seismological experts assured people at a Sichuan government briefing that Chengdu was not threatened by a potential powerful aftershock.
That announcement seemed to have done virtually no good.
At 9:30 p.m. Monday, outside the Chengdu soccer stadium, the mood was a combination of a big family outing, a tailgate party — and some concern that people were there because they feared being inside their houses.
Zheng Xiao Ling, who works for an insurance company, spread a sheet over a thin mattress on a playground's pavement.
"We're told there would be another earthquake," she said. "We're scared still."
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