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SHAKE AND BLOW
China quake takes an only son, and all hope
by Staff Writers
Lushan, China (AFP) April 21, 2013


China pandas 'panicked' as forest home jolted in quake
Ya'An, China (AFP) April 22, 2013 - Pandas living in a reserve near the epicentre of China's weekend quake clambered up trees in panic as their forest home was jolted, but none were injured, officials said Monday.

More than 60 pandas at the Bifengxia Panda Base near Ya-an city were shaken early Saturday by the quake which struck just 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, leaving at least 188 people dead and more than 11,000 injured.

Some pandas climbed high into the tree canopy when the 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck and suffered "differing degrees of shock," the facility said on its website.

Pictures taken by the reserve showed the furry creatures clinging onto tree trunks, while state-broadcaster CCTV showed one panda perched perilously on the top of a tall pine tree, which swayed from side to side.

Ren Yao from Bifengxia's publicity office said that "no pandas or people were injured" in the weekend quake. However, some sections of the facility were damaged, she said without elaborating.

Animals at the base were "slack jawed" with shock after the quake struck, China's official news-agency Xinhua reported.

But staff said that after therapy from staff, the pandas were now feeling secure enough to climb back down to earth.

"The pandas have climbed down from the trees... they are back on the ground, playing and eating," Ren told AFP.

Staff comforted the animals by feeding them favourite foods including apples and calling their names, she added, as more than 2,000 aftershocks set human -- and animals -- nerves on edge.

"In the last two days, there were a series of aftershocks, and we continued efforts to comfort the pandas... they are already feeling stable," she said.

China has about 1,600 pandas living in the wild, mostly in earthquake-prone Sichuan province in China's southwest.

A massive 2008 quake which left more than 90,000 people dead and missing seriously affected another habitat, the Wolong nature reserve, forcing its pandas to be transferred to other bases including Bifengxia.

One animal was killed, another went missing, and some 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of the animals' habitat was damaged.

Pandas have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss in their home terrain of Sichuan, northern Shaanxi and northwestern Gansu provinces.

Wu Yong sobs as fellow villagers carry away his teenage boy's coffin, after a terrifying tremor in the mountains of southwest China robbed him of the only son he is likely ever to have.

"I saw my son but I couldn't save him," the 42-year-old said, recalling the moment he rushed from the living room to his boy's bedroom to discover him buried under rubble.

"I called him and he answered two times... but I couldn't save him," Wu added, his house totally caved in, as friends tried to comfort him.

His 38-year-old wife Yue Yingcui collapsed in the street moments earlier, screaming in grief as neighbours and friends struggled to hold her in their arms.

She had just seen villagers remove a live rooster -- believed to help the spirit find its home and ward off evil -- from her son's coffin before it was taken up the street to the crackle of Chinese fireworks.

The scene was played out in front of 100 or so villagers, as the smell of powder from the firecrackers filled the grim air of suffering that has descended on Longmen, a tiny rural community in southwestern Sichuan province.

The life of many in Longmen, and across the wider county of Lushan, changed forever when the devastating earthquake struck on Saturday morning, leaving more than 200 people dead or missing.

But the loss of 15-year-old Wu Ji, a cherished child in a society that prizes sons far more than daughters, represented a traumatic body-blow for the family of farm workers.

In China, rural families are exempt from the country's one-child policy as parents often rely on support from children in their later years, unlike urban residents, and much of that is provided by sons.

But Wu Ji, who had a sister, was the only son in this close-knit family and his parents, although not old, consider him irreplaceable.

The wider family, which includes grandparents and the deceased boy's uncle, say they have no hope for the future.

For now, the distraught father is thinking only of the tragic present.

"From today onwards I do not have a son," Wu said, stroking his brow and looking towards the floor. "He had so many friends. He had such a humorous and gentle personality."

As the funeral procession made its way up the kind of steep and narrow mountain street that gives quake-prone Sichuan its rugged character, nearby residents struggled to come to terms with the devastation.

An 88-year-old woman surnamed Zhu walked down the rubble-littered Chonglu Road with a two-year-old infant on her back, discussing with neighbours their common ordeal.

"I will stay outside with this child until I am certain that there are no more earthquakes," she said, breaking off from a conversation with a family making noodles on a makeshift stove on the curbside.

With many houses precariously tilted or partially collapsed, locals are staying outside to eat, watch television and sleep.

The area was previously populated with two- or three-story houses. Although simple and basic inside, they lend a certain grandeur to what is actually one of China's poorest regions.

But in one small community that previously consisted of six or seven properties, there lay only rubble, pierced with a flag pole adorned with the red and gold Chinese flag.

Standing behind the rubble, residents sat on stones discussing the damage.

"Three people died in that building, and no one wants to live in this area any more because it is too dangerous," a 45-year-old man, surnamed Yang, told AFP.

Another neighbour, speaking quietly under his breath, muttered: "Where else can we go?"

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