The race to rescue survivors after Yunnan quake in China

Published: 7 August 2014 14:42 CET

By Kevin Xia, IFRC

Specialist rescue teams from the Red Cross Society of China are still combing through the rubble following Sunday’s earthquake in Yunnan Province in the hope of finding survivors. The death toll has risen to over 600, while 2,400 people are being treated for their injuries after the quake.  

By 6 August, the Red Cross had mobilized at least 130 search and rescue specialists. But bottlenecks slowing access to the disaster area have meant that the likelihood of finding survivors declines every minute.

“There is only one road to the epicentre and although it has been restored, it is still heavily congested, but we will not give up hope,” said Disaster Management Officer, Cai Wennan, speaking from the base camp, 20km from the epicentre, Longtoushan Township, southwest of Ludian County.

On Wednesday the rescue team struggled across Barrier Lake into Tianshengqiao Village to rescue two badly injured elderly people, dig out three bodies and evacuate 70 villagers.

Teams from the Red Cross are on their way to the most severely affected area. They will provide immediate medical treatment, food, clean drinking water and latrines to survivors. Three emergency response teams specialising in water supply, mass sanitation and logistics have arrived at the epicentre. Work is underway to provide clean water for 15,000 people per day and the Mass Sanitation Team will install 200 latrines for the local community, while providing community dissemination on health and sanitation awareness, to prevent the risk of disease outbreaks.

“At the epicentre, most people are camped in school buildings, relatively flat spaces and even fields and river banks. Survivors have been exposed to rainstorms followed by blazing sun. More shelters and relief items are needed as well as specialist teams,” said Sun Shuopeng, field team leader for Red Cross Society of China response operation.

The Red Cross has also received support from the local community. Tian Weixian, 42, whose home is near the epicentre, refused to accept money when Red Cross volunteers wanted to pay to use her land as its coordination station. She and her 70-year-old mother also volunteered to prepare meals and wash clothes for the team. She said: “I came to know the Red Cross quite long ago. We are in big trouble now, but how can I charge a penny when you come to help us?”