Another major earthquake hit China this past weekend and, despite calls from some netizens on China's Weibo social media network for "unofficial" volunteers to stay away, people in the affected areas find the unofficial volunteers helpful.
The magnitude-6.6 earthquake that struck China’s southwestern province of Sichuan Saturday is the second to hit the area in five years. A May 2008 earthquake there killed about 70,000 people, and when untrained volunteers flocked to the affected areas, there were some reports that they strained resources and added to traffic congestion.
Among those responding this time was Luo Daiqiang, a 31-year-old volunteer from Chengdu who promptly jumped on his motorcycle and rode 160 kilometers (99 miles) in four hours to Lushan, the most heavily affected area.
At first, he wasn’t sure how he was going to help. “But I wanted to help, so I came,” Luo said. Once there, Luo saw that rescue vehicles were jammed up on the narrow local roads, so he volunteered as a driver, taking two volunteers from Lushan to Baoxing. On Monday, he took a reporter from Lushan to Baoxing.
“The reporter insisted on paying me, in the end, I let him pay for the gas,” Luo said before returning to Lushan. “There was another volunteer waiting for me to shuttle him to Baoxing,” he said, referring to a county that was hit by the recent earthquake. The only highway leading to the town has been destroyed by aftershocks and landslides, making it difficult to reach.
“I’m not the only volunteer motorcyclist going to Baoxing. Quite a few others are waiting at designated spots, prepared to shuttle people whenever they need.”
Meanwhile, an IBTimes China reporter this week visited Baoxing and found other volunteers making significant contributions.
Most of the town’s quake victims have gathered in the stadium of a local middle school, where the rescue control center is also located. Local residents have built a temporary hut in the stadium and are supplying free food -- rice, pork and vegetable stew -- to the people who were put out by the earthquake.
“Rescue personnel and reporters are served first. Please be understanding,” a sign in front of the hut says.
“We have voluntarily pooled together our rice and vegetables,” local resident Sun Xuemei said, adding that many local farmers have brought the vegetables they grow themselves. “Out here in the countryside, we usually stock a lot of food. Since so many volunteers and reporters have come out to help us, we want to offer what we can to feed them.”
Even though food is offered, most volunteers and reporters would not claim their free lunch, insisting instead on paying.
In the Baoxing village of Muping Monday morning, two volunteers stopped in to one of the few open businesses, a small noodle shop. When the owner, a middle aged woman, saw their volunteer tags, she told them the noodles were on the house.
“We are here to help, not to eat for free,” the volunteers protested, but the owner refused.
“We won’t eat if you won’t let us pay,” the volunteers said as they took up their bags and prepared to leave. The owner finally relented.
In fact, many reporters and volunteers would rather buy instant ramen at convenient stores rather than eat for free at local homes. On the other hand, even though supplies have been cut off, none of the shops that are still open had hiked up their prices.