(Yicai Global) Aug. 11 -- Nongovernmental organizations have been playing an important complementary role to government rescue forces in disaster relief efforts following the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Jiuzhaigou, in Central China’s Sichuan province.
They found and helped evacuate hundreds of trapped tourists and local residents, even braving to venture to the epicenter but volunteers are facing a bigger challenge - how to find the people who went missing in the disaster.
“Can you call me later? I’m driving now, and rocks are falling down from the mountains,” Lu Fei, a frontline commander at Blue Sky Rescue -- a nongovernmental rescue organization in China -- told our reporter over the phone yesterday afternoon. He and his team were on a rescue mission to the Jiuzhaigou disaster zone.
A magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurred at around 9.21 p.m. Aug. 8 in Jiuzhaigou County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, China Earthquake Administration announced online. As of noon yesterday, it had killed 21 people (including six tourists, two local residents and 13 unidentified) and left 431 people injured (18 of them seriously wounded).
The final groups of trapped tourists, local residents and migrant workers were evacuated last night.
It has been a race against time for everyone involved in the disaster relief efforts over the past several days. Rescue operations in areas around the epicenter have been hampered by being highly inaccessible.
As a professional nongovernmental disaster rescue organization staffed by volunteers, Blue Sky Rescue (BSR) was founded in 2007 and has its headquarters in Beijing. It currently has more than 30,000 registered volunteers, some 10,000 of whom have received professional training and are qualified for different types of rescue missions.
The local BSR branch in Chengdu sent the first team of 15 rescuers, together with equipment and food, to Jiuzhaigou in less than one hour after the earthquake occurred. BSR mobilized and assembled 187 volunteers from over a dozen regions nationwide for disaster relief operations in Jiuzhaigou, outranking all other nongovernmental rescue forces.
Most of the casualties occurred in Zhangzha, the epicenter of the earthquake. The township is home to major local tourist attractions including the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area, the Jiuzhaigou National Forest Park, Ganhaizi Park and Daji Temple. Analyses reveal that most of the casualties occurred within a 15-kilometer radius of the epicenter.
All rescuers want to go to the epicenter, but it is in a remote location and landslides, mudslides and frequent aftershocks made it completely inaccessible for the rescue forces, as well as exposing them to serious safety risks.
BSR rescuers finally reached the epicenter around 10 a.m. yesterday after overcoming various obstacles and difficulties along the way. When they arrived at the entrance to Jiuzhaigou, rocks were still cascading down the mountains. Roads inside the park were badly damaged. Sparkling Lake, one of the most well-known tourist sites of the park, went completely dry. The team encountered landslides every 30 meters. There were more than 100 landslides at the epicenter, with the worst ones up to 100 meters deep and 1,000 meters long.
The BSR team found two forest rangers and eight local residents at a station near the Arrow Bamboo Lake at noon yesterday, Lu Fei said.
Blue Sky Rescue is not the only nongovernmental rescue team operating in the disaster zone in Jiuzhaigou. Condor Rescue and several other organizations have also participated in the relief work.
After the last group of tourists was evacuated yesterday, search and rescue efforts are now concentrated around the epicenter and surrounding areas. Rescuers will use professional equipment and sniffer dogs, as well as experience gained over many years, to find as many victims as possible.
The first priority for the BSR team now is to find people missing since the earthquake, Lu Fei told Yicai Global last night. Information about missing persons was mainly supplied by local residents.
The earthquake relief headquarters in Sichuan said it had mobilized more than 2,500 local people and 420 young volunteers, and employed some 90 pieces of large equipment for the rescue operations. Over 1,500 police officers were sent from nearby cities and counties to assist the local rescue forces in door-to-door search operations.