Thousands homeless in China's quake zone

By Jasmina Petrovic in Qungkunchack

The children of Qungkunchack village had a miraculous escape when their school was destroyed by last Monday's powerful earthquake in Xinjiang province. They were playing outside when the deadly tremor struck.

Not so lucky were the patients in the local hospital who were crushed to death in the rubble as the building collapsed on them. The Chinese Red cross puts the death toll to date at 268 with 267 people having died here in Bachu county where nine villages were completely destroyed.

Today the children of Qungkunchack village are taking classes in the open air in near zero degree temperatures. They huddle in tight groups spread over open ground near where their school used to stand. And when they leave at the end of the day, most of them will not be going home. For they are among the 26,746 families who lost their houses in the strongest earthquake to hit China in decades.

Their parents have retrieved some cooking ware from the rubble and are preparing the meals outside. In the six affected townships of Bachu county, there is no longer any running water. Supplies are being brought in by truck, but many have to walk several kms to get them.

In the worst hit villages, people are in a state of shock. They have lost loved ones, their belongings, their crops, and whatever else sustained their livelihood. Testimony to the extent of the disaster: a herd of sheep lying dead by the road.

The only hospital in the immediate region has been completely destroyed. Patients died, and the medical staff were severely injured. As with schooling, medical care is being provided outdoors. One hundred new patients, injured during the earthquake, are lying in open air, some with infusion bottles hanging from tree branches.

There is no running water, and little food. In their condition, patients have more than their injuries to fear : many may well fall ill with bronchitis, pneumonia, and exhaustion due to the cold weather that prevails in their improvised open-air clinic.

The Red Cross Society of China and the People's Liberation Army are striving to help local authorities distribute as much relief as possible. More than 1,500 soldiers are on site, erecting tents and conducting search and rescue operations. A thousand winter jackets and two thousand quilts are being distributed. The Red Cross effort is being supported by donations from Red Cross branches and private interests all over China.

In what remains of Mr Abdulrahim Yassin's house, thirty people are praying and mourning Abdulrahim's mother, brother and sister-in-law. Following age-old funeral rites in this predominant Muslim region, all deceased people have to be buried on the same day. In spite of it all, many are thankful for being alive. They just want to rebuild their homes and restore some normality to their shattered lives.