I was really looking forward to talking about my trip to Mt. Emei, but less than half an hour after James, the guy I was traveling with, and I got back, Chengdu suffered a major earthquake. First things first: I'm safe and no one is hurt.
James and I had just settled down for a late lunch around 2:00 at a little place nearby my apartments when we felt the table shake. I thought James was bumping it with his legs, he thought I was shaking it, but then we realized that neither of us could shake the ground like that. We ran outside along with hundreds of other screaming Chinese as the earthquake grew worse.
My primary concern then was getting somewhere where falling buildings wouldn't hit me. Luckily, the hot pot place across the street just had its windows shaking, and the building we had just exited, with a bottom row of businesses and another six or seven floors of apartments, was shaking menacingly but didn't collapse.
We occasionally had earthquakes in California, but none this severe. I had trouble focusing my eyes as I surfed the pavement standing there. The road didn't crack, but it swayed. The cooks, waitresses, and nearby tenants had evacuated.
After maybe a minute the earthquake stopped. People were still flowing outdoors, and once I confirmed that it didn't look like anyone was dying, I didn't feel bad about my observation that this was the most number of people I'd ever seen at one time just in their underwear.
A slight tremor passed a few minutes after, but there wasn't any more further excitement. I worked up the courage to go back to our apartment, where I saw our mirror dramatically shattered and a bit of plaster on the floor, but nothing serious.
All the USAC kids who were left in town started congregating, and it was like someone had taken a snapshot of life in Chengdu at that moment: Andrew was on the ninth floor and just hid under the table; Brant was with his mom, who had just come to Chengdu to visit; Colin was in the bathroom; Megan was teaching elementary schoolers and everyone panicked; I was eating; Daniel was leaving for the train station (so he looked like he was the foreigner fleeing from the scene); Alex was on the twelfth floor of the student dorms and said he never descended them faster.
The worst story was Liz. She was at the airport ready to leave China, and had just handed over her passport to check in her luggage. Then the earthquake hit, she grabbed her bags and ran, the airport closed, and her passport was somewhere in the airport. She came back here to our apartments and doesn't know when to go back to the airport or what time her flight is supposed to leave. For that matter, Alex and I don't know what to think about our flight to Xinjiang tomorrow morning.
I gathered information from other foreigners with brief Internet access. The earthquake registered 7.8 about 90 km from Chengdu and was felt as far as Beijing. Apparently American media is picking up the story, so it must be serious. The Chinese president is coming to Chengdu to look appropriately concerned.
We hear that we shouldn't sleep inside tonight because they're expecting an aftershock. I certainly wasn't expecting this much excitement when I came to China!