Thursday, May 15, 2008


For family and friends, I'm OK.
(and you can help the healing process by clicking HERE)

On Monday afternoon, a 7.9 earthquake rocked Sichuan Province. The death toll is around 15,000 and climbing, and the estimated damage is at $20mil.

Kate and I were thankfully together when it struck and were able to escape the crumbling bank that we were inside. We dodged falling concrete, rolling cars. Walked three hours in the direction of home as the roads sat in a standstill. Felt continuing aftershocks and just held on to each other. Slept in a field.

Most of Chengdu fared well, even as aftershocks continue to rock the city. I cannot say that much for the project villages our microfinance unit operates within. Factories destroyed, villages crumbling. The Rabbit King, Queen, and family are alive. Their factory is badly damaged. I received a call from a 17-year-old rabbit farmer and loan recipient telling me to be careful, then later explaining that his village was falling apart. I felt powerless, anxious, and frustrated.

Our office is working quickly to partner with international donors while using our on-the-ground capacity to deliver post emergency relief aid to earthquake survivors. They need support for rebuilding and repairing damaged homes and village infrastructure. We've got the partners, the local knowledge, and - with help - the funds. In the midst of my own anxiety, fears, and frustrations, I'm deeply grateful for the compassion I feel emanating from around the globe, and am struck by your deep uniting urge to transform anxiety into action.

Please send cash and prayers.

We came to Sichuan to do community development, and that that's exactly what we plan to keep on doing, now from the ground up.

Earthquake stories and experiences:

We've felt dozens of strong aftershocks that make it hard to relax again. I slept in a field the first night with a bunch of other residents staying away from their tall apartment buildings (felt a little like Relay for Life...), then slept under a table the next night as a few more aftershocks rocked our 6th story apartment. All friends are ok. Last night I slept in my bed for the first time, though I woke up at 5am to feel our house shaking again. The aftershocks keep coming.

Yesterday there was a water scare. A rumor started that a chemical plant had exploded and contaminated the water supply. Our water was cut. We ran outside to buy water and found lines going down the street out of every store. There was no water to be found, so we bought bottled tea and watermelons. Water returned later that evening and the government sent out a press release that the water was fine. There is news that many dams to the north have developed major cracks...not sure what that means for us.

I find myself staring at the cracks in my walls and wondering whether they were there before the earthquake. We live in the 6th story of a building, so emergency bags still sit by the front entrance in case we need to make a quick exit.

While walking back home from the bank up north (where we were during the earthquake, having ironically just handed over our passports and bank cards to the teller...we found them a few hours afterwards), to our apartment at the south end of town, I was afforded a walking tour of the city post-earthquake. The streets were in a stand-still. Sirens were blaring everywhere. People, however, remained relatively calm. Based on the numbers of people filling the streets, sidewalks, riverbanks, fields and parks on patio chairs and blankets, one might have mistaken the scene for a public festival. I heard lots of laughing as people compared the clothes they had run out in. Pajamas, nightgowns, house slippers, and undershirts were the norm.

On one sidewalk I spotted my friends, two Scottish sisters who sing at the Shangri La Pub. They were sitting on the side of the road, shoeless, dirty, and one of them naked but for the luxury hotel robe wrapped around her. We swapped escape stories. Ours, of running down a swaying spiral staircase, watching pieces of the building fall off around us. Theirs, of scrambling down 14 flights of stairs together, only to end up in a boiler room, dodging pipes and tanks as they desperately searched for an exit.
"I was just screamin' Our Father! Our Father!, trying to get a prayer out as I was runnin' down the stairs!" said the little sister. The older sister laughed and said, "I was naked as could be you know, robe flappin' in the wind as I went runnin'!"

There is a running competition for who can be on the phone with me while I experience an aftershock. So far I believe Dan, Mom, Wink, and Caitlin have all scored 1 point each. Dad gets half a point for messaging me in the middle of one.

There is a funeral going on outside of my house. Two dozen crepe-paper flower wheels as big as car windshields have been placed around the entrance of my building, and a make-shift tent has been set up, under which families have been cooking, playing cards, and quietly talking all day. The crepe-paper wheels have the name of a school teacher who died in one of the collapsed schools on Monday.

We planned to go out to our project villages today now that aftershocks have died down, but the government has closed the freeways to cars not approved by authorities. We are not sure when we will be able to make it out there. Very frustrating.