China - Feature: after the quake, smell of pickles, nightmares, hope

By Xinhua Writers Bai Xu and Zhou Lei

NING'ER, Yunnan, Jun 4, 2007 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- A young farmer from the Yi ethnic minority in southwest China's Yunnan Province doesn't find it easy to talk about the catastrophe.

"It was... horrible," murmurs 25-year-old Li Jianrong, squatting in front of the debris of his adobe house, shattered by the earthquake that jolted the Ning'er Autonomous County of Hani and Yi nationalities in the tea-making city of Pu'er in southern Yunnan on Sunday morning.

One of the walls in Li's bedroom collapsed. A toy bear lies half-buried among the broken bricks.

"That's where my two-year-old daughter was sleeping that night -- right beside the wall," Li says quietly, pointing at the toy.

The farmer was woken by shakes and shudders at about 5:30 am Sunday. He realized it could be an earthquake but before he could get out of bed, he found himself buried under a collapsing wall. With cuts to his leg and chest, he managed to wiggle his way out, rescuing his wife and daughter in the process.

About 200 meters away, the two-storey brick building of 51-year-old Li Shiwei was damaged too. The shanty that was his kitchen two days ago is filled with the smell of pickles with fragments of earthen jars still littering the floor.

Biting into a piece of cake -- a breakfast provided by the local government -- Li worries about whether or not he will be able to get another building.

"This old one cost me 110,000 yuan (14,400 U.S. dollars)," Li grumbled, noting that the annual income of his five-member family was just 3,000 to 4,000 yuan.

They are among the 186,000 people affected by the earthquake. With a magnitude of 6.4 on the Richter scale, it is the strongest earthquake to hit Yunnan since 1996.

Three people, including a four-year-old boy, have been confirmed dead and at least 290 injured. Twenty-eight of the injured are in serious condition and are receiving medical treatment in a city hospital in Pu'er.

The strong quake, which was followed by hundreds of aftershocks, forced the evacuation of 65,000 residents, said a spokesman for the provincial civil affairs department.

More than 5,000 tents have been distributed to victims - one for every seven or eight people, but more are needed. On the square of Ning'er town, many without tents sleep in their vans or underneath big vehicles.

"All the victims will have a tent by the evening," said Chen Mingguang, an official with the third detachment of the Yunnan Corps of the Chinese People's Armed Police.

Some 1,800 police arrived at Ning'er on Sunday, working overnight to help local people set up tents and demolish dangerous houses.

Communication has been partially restored, with people struggling to re-connect power lines.

Basic medical services are available in the villages. In Mandan Village, which has around 1,000 villagers, more than 200 have received medical treatment. "Most of the patients were in a state of shock with others suffering from high blood pressure," said Liu Xiang, vice president of No. 62 hospital, heading a team of some 20 doctors in Mandan.

One of Liu's patients is 55-year-old Rao Dingming. "I jumped out of bed during the earthquake but I couldn't keep my footing because of terrific shaking," he said, receiving an intravenous drip.

Li Jianrong is wondering what kind of medicine will cure his daughter Li Mengjie. The girl is still so scared she cries in her dreams. "She is very young and time is a great healer, one day she will forget this nightmare," said her optimistic father.