BEIJING: It's only five months into the year and it has been a pretty difficult one already for the Chinese. Massive snowstorms caused havoc earlier this year, then there was the turmoil in Tibet and the aftermath following the Olympic torch relay around the world, lately this EV71 virus that has killed over 30 and sickened thousands -- and now this major earthquake. The updated news on the massive 7.8 earthquake yesterday in Sichuan near the city of Chengdu is that close to 10,000 have died in an area populated by ethnic Han Chinese, Chinese Tibetans and Hui Muslim Chinese. The number of deaths will likely surge throughout the day and heavy rains are starting to make rescue efforts difficult. Premier Wen Jiabao's words just a little while ago don't sound very promising.
Here in Beijing at about 2:30pm yesterday I suddenly felt sick, like a bad case of food poisoning, and wondered if it was something I'd eaten for lunch. My wife messaged me that she thought it was an earthquake, and growing up in Taiwan she's had a lot of experience with them. That's when I noticed all my coworkers looking around at each other trying to figure out what was going on. People started saying an earthquake had hit so we filed out of the building and stood outside for several minutes before coming back in. When I found out the quake was in Sichuan I knew it must have been pretty bad. Beijing is pretty far away for us to have felt that much of it.
Through the afternoon I followed the data on the USGS website. Some interesting maps over here and according to their tally, there have been 25 aftershocks after the main earthquake, the latest being only a couple of hours ago and registering 4.8. That's not big, but I worry that even these small ones could bring down buildings already damaged by the main quake. With heavy rains starting to hit the area, the threat of landslides will certainly be a problem.
Some coincidences? I'm not superstitious but some of my Chinese friends are. One sent me this photo of frogs massing on Sunday in Jiangsu province, a day before the quake. I later found out that there is an old Chinese earthquake device called the "dragon jar" which has frogs on the sides that catch a ball in their mouths which corresponds to the direction the earthquake came from. As for numbers, which mean a lot in China ... usually the number 8 is a lucky number, but not yesterday. According to the Chinese calendar it was the 8th day of the 4th month of the year and 88 days before the Olympics. Add in that it was Buddha"s birthday and you have a perfect storm of superstition going on.
So the reason I meant to write this in the first place was to point you to a few places where you can donate and also follow what's going on in Sichuan. If you want to help, there's information on how to do so at China Crossroads and Shanghaiist.
The latter also has a good timeline of coverage from yesterday starting after the quake until early in the morning. Also check in at Global Voices, which has translations of bits of news from the area.