Oh my gosh, y'all, what a day it has been.
James and I were just starting to wake up this morning and were lying in bed checking email when a very strong earthquake hit here in Chengdu. It hit hard and fast and we both vaulted up out of the bed and went racing toward the boys' bedrooms. All we wanted was for all four of us to be out of the apartment building as soon as possible.
Both boys were already out of their bedroom doors and into the hallway by the time James and I reached them, so we all went sprinting together out of the apartment and barrelling down the stairs. Mercifully, and in direct contrast to lots of other folks in China, our apartment is less high up than the average. I mean, seriously, some buildings around here are crazy tall - like more than thirty or forty floors I would wager - but we are lucky in that our apartment is close enough to the ground such that we were able to actually run down flights of stairs and get outside.
As we were running down the apartment stairs, we heard the emotional chaos going on inside the apartments were were running past - children screaming and crying and the sounds of things falling off of shelves and walls and falling onto the floors.
Because it was a pretty Saturday morning, some of the other Consulate families were not in their apartments. Some were at sports gatherings, some were out and about on their own, and some were together on an official Consulate/CLO outing that actually took them directly into the epicenter of the earthquake. But when James and I and our boys hit the outside of our apartment building, we didn't know those things. We only looked around and saw the others who had also decided to run out of their apartments. There were terrified, crying children and there was much fear and uncertainty.
I did my best to scoop up and soothe little ones needing comfort. Other families came out of the buildings. James and other Consulate daddies headed in to work, for that is where they are needed during disasters. Never mind that James and I were dressed in our pajamas - mercifully, James' "pajamas" basically look like workout clothes, so when he spent the morning wearing them at the Consulate doing whatever a James-type does during disasters, I'm sure he pulled it off - but I was in pajama bottoms and a tshirt with no bra on and my hair messed up seven ways to Sunday... looking like total hell in front of James' coworkers and their families.
It took the little ones a while before they were psychologically ready to start playing together outside, but they ultimately did. We all spent quite a while outside before being told that we could go back in. While we were outside, I got a chance to speak to a Chinese woman who had been here five years ago during the earthquake in Chengdu that had killed 68,000 and injured 374,000. Talk about a big, horrifying earthquake - it is rated as the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time.
She is now very scared of earthquakes, and she told me that five years ago there had been large "aftershock" earthquakes one, two, three, and and even four days after the big one had hit. She, herself, had been injured in the earthquake five years ago, and she was hesitant to go back into the apartment building even after we'd been told that we could. I can understand her fear after being through what she had been through. Heck, I can understand her fear and I haven't even remotely been through what she's been through.
When I got back into my apartment, I found that many things had fallen off of shelves and tables. Pictures had fallen, artwork had fallen, even dishes that had been drying on my dishrack on my kitchen counter had fallen out of the dishrack or even onto the floor. Cupboards were open, drawers were open... it wasn't absolutely trashed or anything, but we knew that an earthquake had occurred and that it that had been big enough to really disturb our apartment.
A little while later, there was a knock on my door. An American family that hadn't had a chance to get any Mandarin before coming to China asked if I would please use their phone and call their ayi to make sure that she and her family and her apartment were okay. I did, and everything was fine, but this was such a good idea that I also called my own ayi and made sure that everything was also fine there (which it was, thank goodness).
It is absolutely on days like today when I am grateful for having gone through language training (though I would argue that doing a chapter at FSI on earthquakes and natural disasters and, you know, pandemic flu would have been ever so much more helpful in real life than all of those pointless chapters about global thermonuclear warheads. BUT WHATEVER). While outside, I was able to talk to Chinese folks (those who had been through the other earthquake and those who were in a position to know more about what was going on than I did) because I had Mandarin, and then I was able to relate back to the other Americans around what had been said, and this was quite nice to be able to do. It was also nice to hear that our apartment building had withstood the disastrous earthquake five years ago, etc. Very comforting.
We have since felt may "aftershock" earthquakes - along the five-something richter scales - and the boys and I have been inside the apartment but bracing ourselves each time one hits to feel it and figure out if we should go outside or not. The news reports are just coming in - depending upon which nation's measurements you use, this earthquake was either a 7.0 or a 6.9 on the richter scale - and there are already reports that more than 113 are dead and thousands injured after this quake. The numbers are still climbing, and I'm sure they will be higher than that in the end.
Mercifully, James' coworkers who were literally basically right at the epicenter of the earthquake when it hit (because the Consulate/CLO outing was bound for there) are all fine. I have heard fifth-hand reports of mudslides or rockslides on the road during their travels, and these reports are also to be found in the news, so it will be very interesting to hear what their journey was like.
But, really? James and I had toyed long and hard with the idea of going on that particular outing today, though we had ultimately decided not to because we are lazy and the outing was leaving super early in the morning. And this, my friends, is just another reason to be slothful sloths of epic slothyness, like we are. YOU ALSO can decide not to go on a CLO outing and thus end up avoiding being at the epicenter of a major earthquake!
It has indeed been a crazy day in Chengdu today. Please keep this area in your prayers.
In the meantime, my boys have positioned the family tvs in such a way that aftershock earthquakes will not knock them off their tv stands and onto the floor:
What a day, my friends. WHAT. A. DAY.