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Quake Victims Fill Chinese Hospital

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

Nearly 9,000 people are feared dead in China today. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit in mid-afternoon local time. It flattened buildings and sent people in Sichuan province racing into the streets, among them my co-hosts Robert Siegel and Melissa Block. They've been in the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, preparing for special broadcasts we had planned for next week.

After the quake, they headed northwest toward the heaviest damage. Robert Siegel sent us this story of the sight at a hospital that was destroyed.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The city of Dujiangyan is a scenic place in normal times. It's a scene of a famous historic irrigation project thousands of years old. And it's this town, about 45 miles northwest of Chengdu, the big city that's the capital of Sichuan Province, it's one of the towns that was hit very hard by the earthquake. There was a collapse of a roof in a school building. And then in the center of town the hospital collapsed with, we're told, about a hundred people inside.

(Soundbite of P.A. system)

SIEGEL: Well, we're looking in from the street at the grounds of the hospital; there's obviously been a terrible collapse, and there now cranes in there trying to haul out some of the debris. We don't how many people are trapped inside the hospital, and you can see an enormous degree of damage inside. Let's see if some of the people who were looking at it with us know anything about what happened.

Unidentified Man #1: His sister works in the hospital.

SIEGEL: Was she inside the hospital when the earthquake struck?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: She actually was in there. Yes.

SIEGEL: Did she get out?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: No, we don't know what happened to her.

SIEGEL: Are the crews working quickly to try to rescue people?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: He thinks they are doing their best, but because the local conditions, and it's very specific what the condition - maybe just to get there, geographically, just to get in there, get the machinery in there, it's limited. Therefore under the circumstances he thinks they're doing very well.

SIEGEL: About a mile or less away from the hospital, in the center of Dujiangyan, there was a Red Cross station, tents that have been set up and medics trying to erect yet another tent to house the injured before ambulances can come and take them to hospitals in the region.

Seems that an ambulance has arrived and they've brought a gurney out and they're going to take somebody from the makeshift hospital - a child who appears to be hurt and is being carried by soldiers. We road through the city of Chengdu north to Dujiangyan earlier today, and all the way what you could see were people sitting out of doors, in front of their homes, in front of the apartment houses where they live.

There's some real concern that there could be an aftershock and it could cause further damage. So here in Dujiangyan, which already did suffer a great deal of damage, people of course are also sitting out of doors. Even as it's drizzling. They have their umbrellas out. And we talk to some of this people and asked them why.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking Chinese)

SIEGEL: Oh my, are you going to spend the whole night out here?

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: They said that they are here until tomorrow, tonight and tomorrow. And they say way over there a lot of houses have collapsed.

SIGEL: Did your houses collapse today?

Unidentified Group: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: Our houses are fine but they were cracked, and there's some damages. And as they said, if our house collapsed we wouldn't be here. We'd be buried.

SIEGEL: Here - here we should explain is under a trellis which is supported by some trees, and it's really a makeshift shelter, kind of a lean-to in front of the buildings right near the curb. And what if it really starts raining? What if it starts raining harder than it is now?

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking Chinese)

Unidentified Man #1: We have umbrellas. We have no other choices.

SIEGEL: Sometime in the coming days, this town and others that were hit by the earthquake will have to deal with some of the damage to infrastructure. Here there's no electricity, there's no running water, there's no gas. But for now the most important problem here is finding as many of those people as possible who might be trapped under the rubble of the hospital.

Robert Siegel, NPR News, in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, China.

NORRIS: And you can find photographs and more eyewitness accounts at our blog. That's npr.org/chinadiary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.