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China Journal: The Day the Earth Shook

China Journal: The Day the Earth Shook

A friend of mine and his family are serving in China. Shortly after the earthquake he emailed me the following account of what it was like when the earthquake hit.

Monday Afternoon
My wife and kids are at home and haven’t felt any shaking where they are. As it happens, I was at an out of town meeting when the room started to shake. We ran for the doorways, though I doubted they would provide much protection if the concrete building we were in crumbled. We are all safe. When the shaking stopped, we went outside.

I am just 50 miles from the epicenter. I heard that some older buildings fell, but I have seen no damage where I am. It is a little hard to know what might be damage and what was already broken…

People have all headed to the streets. Shops are closed. I am sitting outside Starbucks using their wireless Internet to read on line about happened.


A friend is with me who wants to go to the west side of the city but he said no buses or taxis are going that way. He wasn’t sure if that was “not allowed” or “not able” (roadways overwhelmed).

Good news is we are all safe.

Monday Evening
We went to our hotel and found that some tiles fell off the wall and crashed on the lobby floor. They weren’t letting anyone in the building so we walked about 20 minutes to a western restaurant. On the way we saw a broken plate glass window. Another building had big cracks in it, but they may have just been the plaster that was broken.

Most places were closed. Some said they have no electric but we saw lights on in various places. While eating our supper, there was an aftershock.

We went back to the hotel and were able to get in at 9PM “to get our things” from our 15th floor room but we stayed inside until there was a substantial aftershock. We reevaluated and headed back outside until midnight. The hotel people and government said it was OK to go back into newer buildings.

Most people didn’t feel comfortable with that and stayed outside for the night. Many bought tents to stay in. People were everywhere outside. Very few apartments had lights on. The park across the street was covered with people.

Tuesday Morning
I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until morning. My room mate said there were several aftershocks through the night. As we woke, there were two more. Even now as I am typing, things are wiggling around.

We will dress and see if we can find some food. Our hotel doesn’t have water or gas. The maintenance people shut it off for safety.

It is raining now, so I imagine many of those who we outside went in. Only tents remained in the park in the morning.

We are very grateful to be safe. I guess you are hearing reports as much we are. I heard two NPR reporters were in town doing another story when the earthquake came. I listened to their reports via

Things are still shaking. There have been 23 earthquakes since the big one yesterday. (You can keep up with the shaking at this web site We are feeling those shakes, and no we are not enjoying it. We just don’t know if we should sit tight or take off out the door. It makes us nervous each time things move. But I think we are OK nonetheless. I am scheduled to fly out tomorrow night but I hear the airport is crazy.

One of my colleagues was ordered out of his apartment. Since it is an older building, it was feared unsafe. His family slept outdoors. Today he shared with us how much his family takes for granted…being able to cook, shelter from rain, running water, and so on. They are back in their apartment now.

Tuesday Evening
Thanks for remembering our staff and myself. Also remember those doing recovery and relief efforts. Most of the damage is in a mountainous area. Since it is raining, there are landslides and road are damaged. Melissa Block’s audio report at is quite moving as she describes the parents’ reaction as workers dig through rubble that was once a school. Continue to pray for this country too. This is a very proud year for them as they host the Olympics. They want very much to earn “face” or respect in the world. Yet, there are so many issues that threaten that possibility. This year has seen many challenges: extreme winter weather, tainted exported products, Tibet, a troubled Olympic torch run, hand-foot-mouth disease, a major train wreck (, this earthquake and so on. The leadership of this country really needs our prayers.

Wednesday Morning
We watched coverage from local TV stations last night. Some of the scenes were pretty gruesome. CNN doesn’t show those same things, thankfully. Perhaps it is the reaction of that parents that is most moving. Parents long for their child to be found and fear that they are dead. Our Father also longs to for these children.

Last night after praying before bed, the room started shaking. I was reminded of Acts 4:31, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken…” I slept fine, although there were more earthquakes in the night.

We have resumed our meetings today as much as we can. It is lunchtime and I have heard that the water to this city of four million has been shut off for three days. I don’t know the reason, maybe to repair damaged pipes. One area of the city has some flooding due to a broken pipe.

A friend had gone to the airport and says it is very crazy there. He is at his gate with lots of people and no airplane in sight. My flight is scheduled for 8:30 PM but the flights that are going our are several hours late. Maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the flights are canceled.

Outside the office here, life is going on pretty much as normal, except that people are buying up water. Gas for cars is limited to 4 gallons per fill up.

Later we learned that it was a rumor that the water was to be shut off. Every little shop was sold out of water and other basic food stuffs as a result. I think it shows how edgy people are. The water was back on in an hour or so.

Some of the folks who live here have been doing what they can to help. They sent two vehicles to the affected areas loaded with water, tarps and other supplies. One man is a doctor who is taking medical supplies. Because of the broken roads, he couldn’t get through yesterday and is trying a new route today.

The thought of leaving is sweet and sour. I want to be with my family, somewhere where the ground doesn’t shake, away from the “problems” here. On the other hand, I wish that I could do something to relieve others’ suffering. When I see the TV images of the crying mothers or the trapped children, I feel so far removed and yet feel deeply for them.

In spite of the destruction here, I do feel that the situation is many times better than in Myanmar where aid is being refused or stolen. Both of these places need our prayers.

On Wednesday, we managed to have some meetings until mid-afternoon. The room swayed a few times as there were more earthquakes. I headed to the airport a little earlier than I usually would knowing that things were a little crazy there as they sorted out flights.

We boarded pretty much on time but had to wait two hours to get a spot in line to take off. I knew we were in for a long wait when they brought out the meal: 2 rolls, a piece of cake, picked vegetables, and peanuts, (pretty standard airline meal here).

We finally took off at 10:30PM, two hours after schedule. We landed at 1:10AM. I grabbed a cab and crawled in bed by 2. (I had it pretty good…my friends going to the capitol on a “7:00” flight didn’t get to bed until 4AM!)

I talked with three college girls on my flight. All the universities, secondary and elementary schools closed for a week. They were headed home. I didn’t know school was canceled and asked why they had a break. “The earthquake, don’t you know?!” I wasn’t clear which campus they were on, but they indicated that there was damage to buildings there. I wondered who paid their airfare and I wondered about those who couldn’t afford a ticket. Where did they go?

It is nice to be back home and see the family. Life must go on, yet I feel for those whose lives have been permanently interrupted. They can’t get on a plane and leave their sorrows behind. Life without a family member or a home will be a permanent reminder of that day the earth shook.


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