Red Cross teams struggle to reach China quake survivors

Publié: 4 août 2014 11:25 CET

By Francis Markus, IFRC, Beijing

Red Cross Society of China teams have battled to reach survivors of a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that struck South Western Yunnan province, leaving at least 398 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

“This is the most difficult mission I have faced in my 10 years of disaster relief experience,” said one Red Cross Disaster Management Officer, Cai Wennan, who is part of a team that has reached the affected area.

“Aftershocks have triggered landslides and cracked many bridges, forcing rescuers to walk on foot to the quake-hit area. We had to walk 10 kilometres on the mountainous roads which were littered with debris from collapsed buildings and landslides. On our left side was a deep valley and on the right side was highly unstable terrain, with the constant sound of falling rocks. All the injured people had to be carried to safety and it was an extremely arduous test for the rescuers both physically and psychologically.”

Heavy rains continue

Weather forecasters say heavy rains in the disaster area are likely to continue in the coming days, increasing the misery of earthquake survivors and the challenges of relief efforts.

Government officials said nearly 1,900 people were injured in the disaster, which was one of the biggest earthquakes to strike the area for several years.

The Red Cross Society of China has initially mobilised 2,000 family kits, containing household items for families displaced from their homes, as well as quilts and jackets. Some 200 tents have also been despatched but it is clear that there is an urgent need for more.

Disaster management teams are assessing what the other most urgent priorities need to be in relief. Specialised emergency teams may be needed to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to populations living in the quake hit areas.

Among the main challenges, according to local officials, are the lack of specialised relief teams and equipment, damaged roads needing urgent repair and there is a shortage of relief items to meet the needs of survivors.

Search and rescue teams deployed

Red Cross search and rescue teams from several surrounding provinces have been deployed to help reach survivors in the shattered terrain.  

The earthquake left more than 22,000 homes destroyed and nearly twice as many badly damaged, according to government figures.

The area, bordering Sichuan province to the north, is a relatively underdeveloped  region, populated by many members of ethnic minority groups. It’s clear the destruction to homes and livelihoods will pose a medium to long-term challenge for people trying to re-establish their lives.