QSI Has a School in Chengdu. This is a message Karin Hall, the director, just sent out about the events that happened the day of the earthquake and after at the school and in Chengdu.
Earthquake in Chengdu
After School Activities had just begun and students were spreading out around the school to play sports or practice their music when at 2:28 pm the ground began to shake. At first students and teachers thought it might be a huge dump truck with a heavy load bumping over the speed bumps outside the school, but when the shaking went on they all realized what it was.
Although I have been through many earthquakes (Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Egypt) this was by far the longest. One of our teachers timed the quake at almost 3 minutes! While a 40 second quake seems like it lasts forever, a 3 minute quake seemed like an eternity. Every time you thought it was over, it started up again.
I was in the office with a student, teacher and the office staff. The first thing I heard was the familiar rumble of the earth as it begins to shift. As we are close to the outside I told everyone in the office to go out to the street. The movement of the earth was so great that although no poles, buildings or balconies were coming down it was impossible to stand up.
Watching the earthquake in Cairo I was able to see the soccer fields undulate. It is almost something that your eyes cannot quite take in, or your eyes take it in but your brain cannot process it. In the Chengdu earthquake the glass in the front windows of the school were rippling. It is a fascinating phenomenon.
As soon as the quake stopped I walked back into the building to check on where the other students and teachers were and if they were safe. Teachers who were walking their students to their after school activity had them on the lawn, away from the building, sitting down. Another group was in the computer lab under the tables and when the quake ended they headed for the open playground as well. At the back of the school the sports teams were sitting in the field. All the students, teachers and parents were calm, quiet and attentive to what should be done next. What a wonderful sight to see everyone safe and sound.
Ron Noll, our science guy, gave a quick overview of what happens in an earthquake and what they could expect over the next day and weeks to come. The students, as usual, were curious, inquisitive and happy to have some information to work with. The day we returned to school we had an assembly to discuss the type of earthquake and what to expect over the next weeks.
My next goal was to move all the students to one safe location. Teachers took students two at a time around and through the building to the front playground where there was easy access to the buses and cars. We immediately got on the phones to determine where the buses were and the status of the roads. The issue became: a city of 11 million people and a region of 20 million just had an earthquake and EVERYONE is using their cell phones to find out if their loved ones are safe. The phones were down. We would have to wait for the buses to return to school to find out what the city was like.
Notifying parents that their children were safe was our next mission. We knew landlines worked, but no one would be inside their houses at this point in time – cell phones were still not working. We had to wait. Some parents came immediately to pick up their children, others without cars were waiting for the children to come by bus. From parents we learned that although Chengdu is a city of high rise buildings there was no visible damage to buildings. Roads were very congested with people who had streamed out of office and apartment buildings, but they were calm. Also waiting.
Our first buses to return to school reported the same things: lots of people but buildings were standing and people were fairly calm. We decided to send the students back to their homes with the understanding that if parents were not there to pick them up they would be brought back to school, as is our usual policy. Students were all picked up by their anxious parents, relieved to know they were safe. Once students were home we had the staff taken into town and dropped off where they could find out if any damage had occurred in their homes. One student’s parents could not get a taxi, could not contact the school and arrived on a borrowed bike about 6 pm that evening.
QSI Chengdu closed for two days at the request of the government. The building was inspected the day of the quake by an NGO and the day after the quake by the US Consulate. It took the government longer to get to us but they also assured us that the building was safe. There is a bit of plaster coming off the walls but that will be repaired this summer along with a paint job.
The last major earthquake in the region had been 70 years ago so people really did not know what to do. Most buildings in Chengdu are high rise and since inspectors wanted to get in and check them before people came back in there were lots of people out on the street. Restaurants were not open for the most part so the ones that were open were packed. People were bringing food and blankets out onto the street to sleep for the night and one of our teachers described her experience that night, staying on one of the university campus as a cross between a rock concert and a refugee camp. Two weeks after the quake there were still people living in tents in parks, along side the roads and in open areas – not because their buildings were not safe, but because they were still afraid to sleep inside.
While most people in Chengdu lost a picture frame or a vase sitting on a shelf, many of our apartments were untouched. I have to say many of us were pleasantly surprised with how Chinese construction of high rise buildings withstood the quake. However, outside of the city 60-90 km there was major devastation. Almost immediately the NGO’s in Chengdu kicked into action and began gathering donations and supplies for the villages we heard were flattened. Food, water, blankets and tents were soon gone from every store.
Over the next week the city continued to move with constant aftershocks. Some people were evacuated to Chengdu from the epicenter, some companies evacuated their families out of Chengdu but most people in Chengdu stayed put. Aftershocks are disconcerting and cause the heart to beat just a bit faster until you realize that each day they are further apart and lessen in severity – for the most part! There continued to be aftershocks and if this is a typical earthquake, they will last for many more weeks!
QSI directors, teachers and former directors from all over the world donated over $2000 toward the relief effort. The money was donated to medical supplies and toward rebuilding people’s homes. This will be a long term rebuilding effort by the Chinese government, local citizens and the world! QSI Chengdu’s Roots and Shoots group donated the money they had toward first aide kits and the Secondary students gave the money they had raised for a party to buy medical supplies.
The true nature of people surfaces in a crisis and it was a proud moment for QSI Chengdu when the calm and caring nature of our educational community showed its best during the Chengdu earthquake. QSI Chengdu continues to accept donations to help people rebuild their homes and lives outside of Chengdu.