A strong earthquake hit the Chinese southwestern province of Sichuan on Saturday, killing at least 179 people and injuring more than 7,000. The magnitude of the earthquake was between 6.6 and 7.0, with the epicenter in Ya’an county. This region is the home of the giant pandas and the research center for giant pandas. For many, this disaster recalls the terrible memories of a devastating earthquake in the same province five years ago, which killed more than 87,000 people.
A Chinese news agency reported that more than 6,000 soldiers and rescuers were on the way to the affected region to help. Chinese new Premier Li Keqiang flew to Ya’an county from Beijing to survey the damage. News media stations like Sky News and CNN claim this will be the first big test for the new Chinese leadership.
During the earthquake, as much as 50 percent of the local infrastructure collapsed, a Chinese general said. According to Sky News, the government now faces significant criticism for having allowed poorly constructed buildings to be erected and covering up their flaws. As a result of the destroyed buildings, tens of thousands of people slept in tents or cars the first night after the earthquake, afraid to remain in their unstable or ruined houses.
Even with the widespread damage, some hopeful stories of survival are emerging. Local media outlets claim a mother was able to lift a 50 kilogram piece of concrete to save her son from the rubble. Other stories said that a father searched the wreckage for six hours to rescue his son, despite multiple abrasions all over his body where the stones and concrete tore his skin.
At Boston College, there is a large population of international students and scholars from China. The Office of International Student and Scholars sent a condolence letter to the international students. The letter reads: “We realize how difficult it must be to be so far from home watching such horrific events in your home country play out on the news…We want to remind you that there are many resources on campus to help you…There is always a BC counselor on call that can be reached…”
The earthquake brought mixed feelings to the international students from China. Donny Wang, CSOM’16, said, “I feel very sorry and desperate because I can’t help them since I am thousands of miles away. After reading the articles and news through Wechat (a Chinese version of WhatsApp), I learned more about the earthquake details and was moved by the stories of unsung heroes. I am planning to go to Ya’an this summer to help the people who suffered in the earthquake.”
Everyone, from the new government in China to the Boston College community, is doing what they can to understand this tragic natural disaster and finding ways to aid the earthquake victims. It is a chance for the global community to reach out to the afflicted region, and for China’s new government officials to prove their worth and reverse the mistakes of their predecessors.