Aftershock threat sends residents out in the open

2008-05-21 01:09:27 GMT       2008-05-21 09:09:27 (Beijing Time)        China Daily      

Residents are forced to sleep on Tianfu Square in Chengdu, Sichuan Province on Tuesday after authorities warned of a violent aftershock the night before. [Agencies]

CHENGDU - The forecast of a strong aftershock on Monday night created panic among people in Sichuan province and neighboring Chongqing municipality and Guizhou province.

The Sichuan provincial seismological bureau warned that an aftershock, 6-7 on the Richter scale, could rock Wenchuan county, about 159 km from Chengdu and the epicenter of the May 12 quake.

Even though the forecast said Chengdu and other areas were not likely to suffer major damage, many people spent Monday night in the open. Jams caused by private cars trying to flee the central part of the city lasted till yesterday morning. Vehicles queuing up at gas stations worsened the traffic congestion.

The forecast, repeated on TV channels and radio stations in Sichuan, however, said that only the Longmenshan fault zone that included the worst quake-hit areas of Lixian, Wenchuan, Maoxian, Beichuan, Pingwu and Qingchuan was under threat, a research fellow with the seismological bureau said.

Despite that many people in Chengdu spent a sleepless night in the open or were ready to flee their homes as soon as the first tremor was felt.

People calmed down yesterday morning, and instead of feeling angry, they thanked the government for the forecast. It shows the government's commitment and sense of responsibility, a Chengdu resident said.

People in outer districts and counties, too, fled their homes. The majority of urban Chongqing residents took shelter in tents in the city's squares, parks and other open public areas after the municipal government warned the aftershock would be strong in Chongqing.

Chongqing resident Shen Ping and her six-month-old baby spent the night in a park. "I didn't want to take my child out of home at midnight. But my family insisted that I do so for it's safety."

The extent of panic was much greater in Guizhou. A few reports even said frogs and toads had begun fleeing certain areas, intensifying public fear.

Some Tongzi county residents in Zunyi city said they saw armies of frogs and toads "migrating" on Monday night, and took it as a sign of a massive tremor, Zeng Yongtao, the city's vice-mayor told Xinhua over the phone.

The government of the northern Guizhou city that borders Sichuan and Chongqing sent investigators to check out the authenticity of the reports but the result was not available till late yesterday night.

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