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After six decades, quake ends a happy marriage

By Xinhua writers Yi Ling and Li Laifang (Xinhua)

19:38, April 21, 2013

LONGMEN, Sichuan, April 21 (Xinhua) -- "You go first. I'll come after you." These were the last words Chen Derong said to his wife Li Qiqiong.

The couple, both 80, had been married for more than six decades.

"My granny stared at grandpa and could not say a word," their granddaughter Chen Jianfang told Xinhua in an interview Sunday in their home village of Wangjiacun, Longmen Township, in Lushan County, the epicenter of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that jolted southwest China's Sichuan Province Saturday morning.

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, the quake had killed 186 people and injured more than 10,000. An additional 21 people were missing.

The elderly couple were up when the quake struck at 8:02 a.m. "They normally get up at 8:30, but I guess they were excited that mum and dad had come home for the weekend," said Chen Jianfang.

It had been at least five weeks since the elderly man and woman saw the young couple. Their youngest son Chen Suming and his wife Luo Zifen worked for a furniture firm in the provincial capital Chengdu and unable to go home every week.

When the quake struck, Luo was making breakfast, and Chen Derong had followed his son outdoors to chat with a neighbor.

The old man felt the tremor and immediately ran back into the house. For more than 30 years his wife had suffered from rheumatism and had been unable to move around easily.

"But a wall collapsed and hit him on his left foot. He fell, cried in pain, and yelled we should all get in to save mother-in-law," said Luo.

Chen Suming and his older brother, who lived in the same neighborhood, carried their father out to the courtyard before rushing into the living room, only to find the sofa where their mum was sitting had been buried underneath a toppled wall.

"Tiles were on top of her and we could not see her at all," said Chen Suming.

When the sons finally retrieved their mother, they carried her out to the courtyard and laid her on the ground next to her husband.

Chen Derong broke down in tears.

He saw no visible wound except traces of blood from her mouth. Li said she ached all over.

"Dad insisted he could wait and we should send mum to hospital first," said Chen Shulin, their eldest son. "We, too, sensed her condition was more critical."

The brothers put their mother on a pushcart and waited for nearly an hour by the village road before a private car owner offered them a ride to the county hospital 8 km from their home.

The family arranged another pushcart to send their father to the same hospital later on.

The emergency ward was packed with injured villagers.

Luo had taken quilts from home, which she laid on the ground outside the hospital as a makeshift "sickbed" for the elderly couple.

Doctors prescribed doses of intravenous injections. "But granny's condition worsened," said Chen Jianfen. "I called her, but she didn't respond. Her mouth was tightly shut."

The place was too crowded and there were not enough doctors to carry out closer checks. "One of the doctors suggested we should take her to a bigger hospital in Ya'an's city proper," Chen Jianfen said

The same advice was prescribed for Chen Derong, who had suffered a broken ankle. The county hospital had no anesthetics and staff were fearful of infection if he was not operated on in time.

"You go first. I'll come after you," he told his wife.

But he was carried onto the ambulance first -- the doctors knew his wife was less likely to survive.

Shortly after he left, Li died.

The couple were both born in 1933 and got married at 17. They were separated for four years starting in 1951, when Chen Derong joined the army.

The quake caused them to part and the separation was final.

Had the quake not happened, the couple would have sat down for breakfast together, usually homemade noodles, a vegetarian diet, with no chili for the wife.

Had the quake not happened, they would have sat down together in the living room, listening to their favorite TV programs, as they both had partially impaired eyesight.

On sunny days, they would have sat in the sun in their courtyard, mostly in silence.

Chen Derong got the news of his wife's death about two hours after she died.

He told his sons to arrange a "decent funeral" and bury her on the hill outside their home.

Related Reading:

Chinese president orders all-out rescue efforts after strong quake

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered all-out measures to rescue victims and minimize casualties after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit southwestern province of Sichuan Saturday morning.

Chinese Premier visits epicenter after deadly quake

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday afternoon visited the area torn by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in China's Sichuan Province, calling for wasting no time to save lives.

First night after deadly earthquake in Lushan Country, Sichuan

A 7.0- magnitude earthquake which hit Lushan County on April 20 morning damaged the Lushan People's Hospital and doctors had to erect temporary tents outside the hosptial to treat the injured people.

Death toll still climbing over China quake

As of 3 p.m. today, 186 people have been killed and 21 have gone missing in the earthquake that hit southwest China's Sichuan province Saturday morning

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