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China's response to disaster relief becomes template for others to follow, says U.S. volunteer
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08:16, May 14, 2009

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· 8.0 Richter scale earthquake hits SW China
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When Robert Engle, an American photographer and designer, arrived in Sichuan last year days after the devastating earthquake rocked that beautiful piece of land in China, he was shocked by the aftermath of the disaster. But what impressed him most was China's response to the disaster relief, which he said other countries should follow.

"From what I witnessed, the government response in China would be a template for many countries to follow for disaster relief," said Engle who stayed 13 days together with disaster victims he never knew.

Engle did some volunteer work with the Red Cross in the aftermath of the "9.11" terror strike in the United States in 2001.He did what he noticed and had accumulated some experience in helping people to get over the tremendous problems they face in catastrophes.

Engle had planned the trip to China two and half months before the Sichuan earthquake happened. Many Americans had canceled their travel plans, but he insisted on going to the severely afflicted area, as "I looked at it as a great opportunity to see the human spirit in play."

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake or Great Sichuan Earthquake was a deadly earthquake that measured at 8.0 magnitude on the Richter scale occurred at 14:28:01.42 China Standard Time on May 12 in Sichuan province of China and killed 68,712 and left 17,921 missing.

"The government response was swift and the relief work was mobilized in the shortest possible time," he said.

"What I witnessed was just great," he said. "There was constant convoys of trucks laden with everything from rice to water, building materials, medical supplies. There was a constant stream of trucks going into the area that needed help."

"It seems there was always someone you could talk to if you needed something and there were government gas stations, doctors' tents and almost all things necessary for disaster relief were there to be seen."

"They did an excellent job," he said.

Speaking of the military efforts, Engle couldn't help but laud their "outstanding job." "Their efforts were overwhelming. Most of the trucks, most of the tent cities, the aid stations, were all being run by the People's Army."

Public order tends to be worsening in many countries after catastrophes happen. But in Sichuan's disaster-hit area, he was "startled" by the calm and good social order. "We came across many air force men in some of the towns, they seemed to make sure or deris maintained, but they didn't do it with a strong hand."

"They basically walked down into the middle of the street, let everybody know they were there and they would go back to their barracks," he said, adding that the government was not "heavy-handed" either.

"The overall tone seemed to be more about getting help to where help was needed," he said, noting that what he saw demonstrated a harmonious relationship between the government, the army and the ordinary people.

Engle told Xinhua on the eve before the first anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake that he grew up in America in the "cold war" era when communism was called "evil." "In addition, China has been always been a country that I could only observe in the distance, and the my opinion about China was basically formed based on my knowledge fed by the media."

"Although China has been making great strides in improving their people's living conditions in the past decades and the country has been rising rapidly, I still don't have a clear picture of the modern China," he said. "That's why I want to go toChina to see it for real, as I couldn't believe what I was hearing."

Engle said China is an old civilization with a history of more than 5,000 years, and it was "well advanced than any other countries in the world" for a long period of time. "Half of the Chinese population are under 30 years old. You've got the introduction of the Internet over the modern technologies. It was just a change that I want to see it for myself as I want to make my own opinion."

"What I had seen has totally changed my preconception of China, the government, the army and the people," he said.

"I was deeply impressed and moved by many things, and the effectiveness of the relief work by the government was one of them," he said, noting the displaced people were put into tents very soon after the tragedy happened, but in no time many of them moved into the prefabricated houses, which is almost unimaginable in many other countries where people have to live in tents or prefabricated houses for years if they are in the similar situation.

"Now I have formed an absolutely different opinion of the Chinese government, which in deed cares very much for its people and their well being as well," he said.

While in Sichuan, Engle had taken tons of pictures, some of which have been already shown to the American public. He is working on a book about the Sichuan earthquake as well. He said he wants to tell the whole world, through this book, that the Chinese government is an effective and well-performing government, the army is strong army, which is always ready to help its people, and the people are kind, indomitable and optimistic.

He is now planning a new trip back to the quake-hit area and see new changes, which he believes have surely happened.


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