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China Quake Relief Effort Switches Gears


This aftershock was especially large, but there have been many in the last two weeks. China has now received more than $3 billion in foreign aid. The first wave of relief workers, the rescue teams, have already pulled out. Now, a second wave of workers has arrived.

Earlier this past week, NPR's Louisa Lim watched them at work.


LOUISA LIM: I'm now standing in the courtyard of Cialaudra(ph) Orthopedic Hospital near Hanwang, one of the worst-hit areas from the earthquake. And I'm here with Dr. Chung Kinwua(ph), who is from Hong Kong. She's come out here with the medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders, and she's been helping out here over the past few days.

Now, the hospital is still standing, but all of the operations have been moved into this courtyard. Why is that?

Dr. CHUNG KINWUA (Physician, Doctors Without Borders): Externally, it seems it's intact but in fact the inside's been seriously damaged. It's not safe to work inside the building now.

LIM: I mean, what does that mean for a doctor like you? What sort of hospital facilities are lacking?

Dr. CHUNG: They don't have an operation theater because it was being destroyed during the earthquake, so they cannot do any operation here. They don't have beds, they don't have X-ray machine, they don't have a proper examination room. All those consultations are being made here. In fact, they lack everything.


LIM: Can you tell me what's happening here?

Dr. CHUNG: This is the cook; they are making the lunch for the staff. And this is the autoclave for sterilization.

LIM: So, for sterilization they're basically using a massive saucepan which has clamps on the sides so that the lid can be screwed on very tightly. And in order to sterilize the equipment, they put the equipment in that, and they put that enormous saucepan on a makeshift stove built with bricks and fed with wood. I mean, this hospital has basically has been thrown back to pre-modern times, hasn't it?

Dr. CHUNG: Yes.

LIM: How long is it since you've seen this type of equipment being used?

Dr. CHUNG: Not in my life. This is the first time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: (Chinese spoken)

LIM: Patients with major injuries are being evacuated elsewhere on stretchers. Hospital Director Ciali Jung(ph) says although the foreign medics have only just arrived, their help is appreciated. Now, he believes, he'll be working out of this tent hospital for at least two more months.

Mr. CIALI JUNG (Hospital Director): (Chinese spoken)

LIM: He says in terms of the hospital's needs, it needs equipment because all of the hospital equipment was damaged. But he's saying the most help that can be given by the international community is in terms of donations to the relief effort as a whole.

Mr. JUNG: (Chinese spoken)

LIM: China waited three days before allowing foreign relief workers like Dr. Chung to join rescue efforts. There's been some criticism of that decision in online forums, with some wondering whether more lives could have been saved. And Sichuan provincial government spokesman Ho Chiunfe(ph) says logistics was a factor.

Mr. HO CHIUNFE (Spokesman, Sichuan Province Government): (Through translator) I would say that our initial rescue attempt was very timely. In some places, transport was difficult and the roads were extremely blocked.

Unidentified Man #2: You can see - let's turn on the water.

Unidentified Woman: (Chinese spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: From in here? Clean...

LIM: Inside the compound of Chengdu Fire Station, another scene of international cooperation. Nine firefighters from L.A. and Fairfax County are training Chengdu's firemen to use new equipment they've donated. They've given lifting tools, cutting torches, saws and generators, and now they're explaining how to use them.

Mr. DEWEY PERKS (Firefighter, Fairfax County, Virginia): My name is Dewey Perks. I'm here under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. I come from Fairfax County, Virginia, where I'm a firefighter battalion chief in charge of the urban search and rescue section there.

LIM: And, I mean, what's your assessment of what you've seen on the ground? How well-equipped do you think they are here?

Mr. PERKS: I've not been outside the city. And working with the fire brigade here, they're a very modern fire brigade.

LIM: And seeing how they operate, do you have confidence in the Chinese recovery operation?

Mr. PERKS: Total confidence. We have a saying in the fire service, regardless of where the fire service is, the only difference is the patch and the language. It doesn't matter the country. When you have a disaster of a magnitude of this, it's very easy to get overwhelmed. If you look at the United States during 9/11, if you look at the United States during Hurricane Katrina, our capacity was stretched to the absolute maximum.

So, once again, I think the Chinese government has done a tremendous job. No country can do what they have done as quickly as they've done it.

LIM: The young Chinese firemen all look exhausted. They've just come back from 10 days in the disaster zone with no break. Now, they're using their rest and recuperation period to study. Deputy head of Chengdu's fire brigade, Pan Ding(ph), says he's grateful for this donation, and he makes an unusual plea.

Mr. PAN DING (Deputy Head, Chengdu Fire Brigade): (Chinese spoken)

LIM: He's now saying that China's quite a strong country and in terms of material help, they don't anymore need any great material help. And he's saying what they need is spiritual comfort. And one thing that he's saying that people can do is to go to church on Sundays and pray for China.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Chengdu, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.