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On Monday, Fu Guanyu dropped off her young son, Wang Zhilu, at his grandparents’ house so she could go to work. Minutes later, the earthquake hit.
She rushed back home and saw their apartment building in ruins. She says soldiers came right away to help, but they had no equipment.
Two days later, the heavy machinery is on the way. As an excavator clears a path, Fu and her husband Wei Wang search the debris, calling for their son.
After a long while, the workers stop. They have found bodies.
The NPR story concludes, tragically, with the rescue worker informing the parents that three bodies were found: the grandfather, holding his two year old grandson in his arms with his wife clutching his back.
Heartwrenching stories from China of parents grieving over the loss of their young children are becoming far too frequent in the news coverage of the earthquake:
“Our grief is incomparable,” said Li Ping, 39, eyes rimmed red, as he and his wife slowly, carefully pulled a pair of pink pajamas over the bruised, naked body of their 8-year-old daughter, Ke. “We got married late, and had a child late. She is our only child.”
The scene is devastating at Juyuan Middle School, where sorrow seems endless.
“There were screaming parents, and as the bodies would come out they were trying to identify whether it was their child or not,” said Jamil Anderlini of London’s Financial Times. “And once they — the parents — realized it was their child, obviously they collapsed in grief.”
CNN highlights yet another tragedy heaped on these working parents: in China, if one is not wealthy and cannot afford to pay the $1,000 fine for violating the country’s “one child policy”, the one child lost is your only child.
Parents quickly organized after the quake struck and local officials delayed, dissembled and then prevented parents from viewing the bodies of their children:
But enraged parents interviewed at the morgue on Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning say local officials lied to the prime minister to hide the true toll at Xinjian, which they estimate at more than 400 dead children. Several parents blamed local officials for a slow initial rescue response and questioned the structural safety of the school building. They were also furious that officials forbade them to search for their children for two days and then allowed access to the bodies only after the parents formed an ad hoc committee to complain.
“Before Wen Jiabao came, the whole school was filled with children’s bodies,” said one mother who sat outdoors at the morgue with her husband in the early morning darkness beside the covered body of their 8-year-old daughter. “Her father and I had stood outside the school since the earthquake. We pleaded with the government: ‘If she is dead, I want to see the body. If she is alive, I want to see her.’ ”
Her husband, a thin man, leaned forward into the yellow light of two candles. “We’re telling you the truth,” he said. “Get the truth out.”
In the midst of their greif, parents organized and demanded that local officials allow them to see their children. The officials relented and – two days after the quake struck – allowed parents to view and identify the bodies after being transferred to the local morgue.
The New York Times also reports that – due to fears by local officials of the bodies decomposing – parents are asking that the bodies of their children be cremated with their friends (cremation is usual in China).
Questions are openly being asked about the safety of the school buildings where so many children lost their lives:
At the side of the rubble that was Dongqi High School, Zhang Yonglu stoically waited for word of his son, Zhang Shikai, who was also on the fourth floor when the quake brought the building down, while his wife awaits at the main gate.
It was their third day at the site.
“The building is over 40 years old, it was built in 1967. It had no frame and it would have cracked in a weak earthquake,” Zhang said. “It was too old. How could they keep using such an old building?”
Bloggers and even the official state media are openly wondering whether poor construction played a role in these awful events.
The Asia Times Online explains why these fears are justified:
The push for rapid growth, especially of the cosmetic sort, has forced builders to move fast and perhaps ignore the rights of citizens and building safety requirements. According to the CNN report, Brian Tucker, a seismologist with a California nonprofit organization that helps reduce earthquake risks in developing countries, a civil engineer in China told him the country has no centralized, uniform code for earthquake-resistant public buildings such as schools or hospitals, and the size of the fallen beams and columns pictured in video of the disaster appear inadequate to the task.
Still, the construction goes on.
The fact that many lose their homes in the process of these exuberant construction projects compounds the calamity of these same structures – quickly assembled and not built to code – contributing to the deaths of so many people.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Myanmar the tragedy compiles, with aid trickling in but not quickly enough to avert a wide scale, man-made disaster. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is trying to mitigate a wide-spread catastrophe caused by the military junta’s paranoid mistrust of foreigners and foreign aid workers:
The UN intends to send a top official to Burma to persuade the military rulers to accept foreign assistance, says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He is also proposing a summit of global leaders to discuss aid, as fears grow for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
A small bit of good news – that the predicted second cyclone has been downgraded to a tropical storm – still adds to the sorrows of the local populace:
Meteorologists cancelled a cyclone warning on a storm building offshore from Burma, but there are still predictions that the country, that was smashed by Cyclone Nargis on May 2 to 3, will experience 12 centimetres of rain over the next six days.
“It will displace more people, bring more water to an area that is already saturated and it won’t run off quickly so there is the potential for serious outbreaks of disease,” said Lowry, of the approaching storm.
Although the military junta has agreed to allow 160 ASEAN workers into the country, there are questions about how much they can affect the situation on the ground:
But it was unclear whether the workers – from countries including Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh – would be allowed out of Rangoon into the stricken delta region, where help is most urgently needed.
Please keep the people of China and Burma in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.