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Many hands help reunite families
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08:49, June 12, 2008

 Related Channel News
· 8.0 Richter scale earthquake hits SW China
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Xie Xixiu, 91, could not help but cry when she found herself separated from her blind husband.

The elderly couple was rescued in Anxian county, Mianyang, and sent to Chengdu Huaxi Hospital for treatment.

Xie's husband, Xiang Dingpei, 88, was not as seriously injured as she was, so he was transferred to another hospital without her knowledge.

After learning of Xie's situation, volunteers managed to locate Xiang.

They took a video of him to convince the worried wife that her husband was safe.

But watching the video was too stressful for Xie.

She broke down on hearing Xiang pleading with her to return to him as soon as possible.

The volunteers managed to get Xie transferred to the same hospital and ward as Xiang.

From May 15 to June 3, 200 volunteers were based at Chengdu Huaxi Hospital (CHH), to help earthquake victims locate their missing relatives or friends.

CHH is the best hospital in the province and those suffering from severe injuries were sent there.

"Not every volunteer is able to work in the affected areas, in fact a great deal of work needs to be done out of the spotlight," organizer of the volunteers, Xu Chunjuan, a lecturer at Chengdu University of Technology, said.

"I noticed it was difficult for survivors to locate their missing relatives and friends as the medical staff were too busy to answer their queries.

Besides, many people do not have access to the Internet, where some websites are available for help," she said.

In the three-week period, the volunteers, most of whom were university students, had helped more than 600 people locate their relatives and friends.

One laptop, a telephone and four tables with chairs was all the service station outside the hospital had.

A white plastic sheet, covered with various notices, was hung on the side of a small shed.

Each notice told of a heartbreaking story - an injured mother looking for her three missing sons, an elderly man on a respirator looking for members of his family, a grief-stricken couple seeking their missing daughter; a photograph of her taken in happier times.

The sheet drooped heavily laden with desperate pleas.

There were two other billboards in front of the shed listing the names, addresses and contact numbers of more than 40 hospitals that had received victims.

On the last working day, four volunteers were waiting for visitors. Inquiries had dropped dramatically as more patients were being transferred to other hospitals.

Chen Jingping joined the team on May 24. The overseas Chinese student returned from New York after she saw the news on TV.

Chen said the casualty toll was just a number to her at the very beginning, but it completely changed after a few days at the hospital.

"Every number turned out to be a living person as people showed me photographs of the missing and told of tragic stories. I felt I had a certain connection with these missing people, and the pain of not being able to find them," she said.

Chen said most of the people remained calm, their tears had run dry.

But they kept up their hopes of finding their beloved ones no matter whether they were alive or dead.

The initial 200-member team was divided into several groups - enquiries, photography, advice and manning the hotline.

Their database contained more than 46,000 bits of information.

Some provided by hospitals and others from various settlements, and the Internet.

The database was updated once a day, but some repetition did occur, Chen said.

Deng Xilin worked in the photography group.

Her first stop would be at the nurses' desk to get the latest information.

Then the postgraduate student of Sichuan University would visit the wards taking photographs of injured people who had lost contact with their relatives and friends.

The photographs would then be posted on the billboards with the relevant information.

Paying a return visit to these people was something Deng disliked.

"It was very difficult to face them again. People looking for their relatives are much harder to deal with than their relatives looking for them.

"They entrusted us with the job and expected to hear good news but sometime we disappointed them," she said.

Search times varied for the volunteers.

In some cases it took no more than a few minutes, depending on the information.

If no information could be found in the database, phone inquires had to be made.

"The problem was many telephone lines were down. Sometimes we spent a whole afternoon searching for just one number," Chen said.

Duan Zhixiu was critically ill with an infection after her leg was amputated. The Beichuan High School student only had one wish - to find out how many of her classmates had survived.

A doctor of the intensive care unit at CHH, surnamed Zhang, sought out Chen for help.

The school was destroyed and the survivors were scatter in different shelters.

Chen and her fellow workers made hundreds of phone calls to trace them.

Finally, more than 10 classmates of Duan were found at Changhong Training Center in Mianyang.

Chen called doctor Zhang and asked her to relay the message to the girl. The teenager broke into smile on hearing the news, then fell into a coma. She regained consciousness over the weekend.

Her condition remains critical.

The volunteers said although they made every effort, they were only able to reunite a "small" number of people.

"But our help was appreciated, which really touched us," Chen said.

When asked why the service had ended, Xu said collecting information had become more difficult as many victims had been moved from one shelter to another.

And, it was time for some volunteers to prepare for their exams.

Xu said the police and civil administration department are now registering missing people.

"Currently, the nongovernmental figures are chaotic. If the figure can be centralized by the government, it would be much easier for people to find their missing relatives and friends," Chen said.

Source: China Daily

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