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NPR’s Siegel Describes China Earthquake Experience

NPR's Robert Siegel, who experienced Monday's earthquake in China firsthand while on assignment in China, provides an update on the situation there.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The deadly quake in China. We start with a report from the devastated Sichuan province.

    Earlier today, I spoke by telephone with Robert Siegel, one of the hosts of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Siegel and his NPR colleagues were on a reporting trip in Chengdu when the quake struck yesterday.

    Robert Siegel, welcome.

  • ROBERT SIEGEL, National Public Radio:

    Hello, Gwen.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Where were you when the quake hit?

  • ROBERT SIEGEL:

    I was in my hotel room, which is on the 27th floor. And the hotel was moving very vigorously. And I made a dash down 27 flights, figuring out somewhere in the middle that this was an earthquake.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Give us a sense of the scale of the destruction you witnessed.

  • ROBERT SIEGEL:

    The destruction is just terrible. In small mountain villages, north of the city where I am staying, the provincial capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, in these villages, one hears stories of towns in which entire villages are buried under avalanches, in which 90 percent of homes are destroyed.

    That was the case in the village I visited today. It's called Gui Xi. And it's a place that you have to drive about five hours from Chengdu to get to. And you have to go through a mountain road of hairpin turns, which I can only imagine would be a fairly hair-raising ride in the best of times.

    And at the end of a rather long drive, I came to villages where it was just one heartbreaking story after another of people who had lost their homes, lost their relatives, in some cases lost their children.

    The earthquake occurred at about 2:30 in the afternoon here. It was during school hours. And so if a school building fell, then obviously the children inside were most of the victims.

    And what you see in these little towns, in addition to homes destroyed and great efforts to deal with it, by the way, you know, first aid stations, doctors out bandaging people up. The army has gotten in pretty effectively to get the injured into ambulances and back to the cities.

    But what you see there and just about everywhere that's very troubling, even beyond the tragic stories, enormous numbers of people are living under makeshift shelters, which they create by throwing a huge plastic tarp over some rods of bamboo that they suspend in the trees.

    And you just see entire extended families, three generations, sitting under a plastic tarp, fending as best they can with food and water. And today it rained most of the day, so it was doubly uncomfortable.

    And somehow all of these people who don't expect to go back to their homes in their current condition have to be taken somewhere. And it's not clear when that will happen.

    And, of course, everything in China happens at a scale of population that's exponential by our experience. So the numbers are colossal.

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