Monday, May 12, 2008

The Earthquake

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!


Mom said...

Thanks for so quickly posting all this news! The media has picked up on the event and the news is becoming more prominent as more photos become available. As always, you describe things well and I find reading your blog gives me a clear, interesting, and often amusing perspective on your life there. What an adventure you're having!
I'm glad to hear you are fine- You are the best son in the world to call me like that in the middle of the night so that I wouldn't worry... and I didn't! I went back to sleep having the calm reassurance that you are ok.

Aunt Gwen said...

Thank you for posting the information so quickly! The news is on Fox news constantly. They are saying that there may be 5000-10000 dead. 900 Students are trapped in a school.Please keep up posted with your experiences!

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you and your friends are all ok. When I heard on the news about the earthquake my thoughts went to you and was amazed, but glad to see you had posted. Your mom obviously raised you right to have you call to check in. Continue to be careful. After shocks can be just as dangerous. Sorry for the won't let me log in.

Martha said...

Hi Will - were you actually IN Chengdu with the earthquake happended? My son is registered to attend the summer II session in Chengdu. I ran across your blog this AM trying to get more info on the earthquake. Wondering about the status of the USAC structure, students, future programs etc..
thanks for any info!
Concerned Mom

Anonymous said...

Hi Will -
I came accross your blog while trying to google more info about the effects of the earthquake in Chengdu. My stepson is an American teaching in Chengdu and my husband and I have not yet gotten word from him. His name is Daniel. We were wondering if it is the same Daniel in your story. Do you know his last name or can you describe what he looks like?

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

I work with NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in New York. Just read your blog. We are trying to track down people to interview who are as close to the epicenter as possible to interview for tonight's broadcast.

Please reply and either give me your contact number there or give me a call at 212.664.4971. We'd like to speak to you about your experience or anyone else there with you.

Amanda Ingersoll
NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

Anonymous said...

Hi Will -
I came accross your blog while trying to google more info about the effects of the earthquake in Chengdu. My stepson is an American teaching in Chengdu and my husband and I have not yet gotten word from him. His name is Daniel. We were wondering if it is the same Daniel in your story. Do you know his last name or can you describe what he looks like?

Freon said...

Wow. It's surreal to wake up to Chengdu on CNN. I'm glad to hear you're ok. They keep mentioning aftershocks so take care of yourself out there.

Mich said...

Will! I saw an article about the earthquake and immediately came to your blog to see if you posted anything. I'm glad you're okay! Stay safe!

Judy said...

Will, I am a high school teacher in Ojai California. One of my students is from Chengdu. She is trying to find information on what is happening. Can you give us more specifics on what is happening in the city, damage, anything?

Thank you,

Judy in Ojai, California

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you are getting any news at your end, but the internet is reporting at least 8500 dead so far. Stay safe!

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

Glad to hear you're okay. I'm a producer with Good Morning America at ABC News. I realize you're sorting through a few requests from the press, but I'd love a chance to interview you about all this, and also speak to any friends of yours with you.

You can reach me at 001-212-456-5952 or email me at I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks, and take care,
Jason Stine
Segment Producer
Good Morning America

Mel said...

stay safe willy, i miss you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Will - We are relieved to know you are OK. Your safety is on our minds daily! Stay safe. Love Gram & PopPop

pam said...

Will -

Daniel's stepmom wrote earlier. We're all desperately waiting for word from our son who is teaching there. Please tell us more about the Daniel you mention.
Thanks -
Daniel's mom

Mom said...

The USAC people are very on top of things. First the national office had someone call me to tell me you're fine. Then the regional coordinator for UF personally called me to make sure I knew you were ok. They are trying to make sure that we as family have our hearts set at ease. Wasn't that nice of them?

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,
I'm in Denver with little Jessica and haven't seen the news in days. Your Mom called to keep me in the loop. Thank goodness b/c I would have gone online tonight and seen the headlines! So thankful you are safe and I will pray for you and the city in the continuing week. Thanks for keeping the blogs coming. Love you lots,Virginga

susan said...

Hi Will, I wrote to thank you for your blog earlier so this is a follow up: we heard from Andrew this am (US time) and had an overview. Don't know what you are hearing but The news here is reporting 9000+ dead in the region, 35 or more aftershocks, food and water issues and so on and on. The photos , especially of the schools, are grim. Our thoughts are with you guys! Did you respond to Brian Williams? Andrew's uncle knows him well- he would be a good interviewer if you can break through. Regards to all- "Aunt Susan"

Greg said...


Glad you are ok. My son, Joseph from South Dakota is with the Shanghai USAC group. We have been in contact with him via email one time and was able to contact him briefly about 2:00 am your time Tuesday morning...any further information would be greatly appreciated...please take care of yourself and godspeed

Greg, Dad in South Dakota

Michelle K said...

I am sharing your blog with my students today. Thank you for an excellent example of expository writing especially with all the emotional turmoil for you! Bravo Will!

Team Houston said...

I just wanted to say thank you for your Post about the Earthquake.

We are waiting to bring our daughter home from the Chengdu Orphanage and I am sure you can understand why reading your words helped a little.

Keep safe and thanks for sharing a little bit about our little girls life.