msnbc.com
updated 5/13/2008 12:01:31 PM ET 2008-05-13T16:01:31

The powerful earthquake that struck central China on Monday caused massive loss of life and untold destruction. Here are stories from the scene, as reported by msnbc.com readers:

Panic, fright and worry
I'm an English teacher in ChengDu. I was at home in my apt. on the 19th floor when the rumbling noise and violent shaking started. My first earthquake! It lasted several minutes and I used that time to talk to my Father about it. I stood in one spot grasping a vase (full of fresh Mother's Day flowers) which had belonged to my mother. When the shaking stopped, I mopped up the water spilled when my water machine toppled over, and I picked up a lamp and my computer from the floor. I was delighted that my computer still worked and that I could get on internet. I sent e-mails to all three of my children in USA. I said: "I don't know if it's safe to use the elevator, and I don't know if I'm better off outdoors or inside. Please advise ASAP."

I figured they had better access to Earthquake 101 info than I did, but then I realized that 3 pm here is 2 am there. I rode my bicycle to work — but they wouldn't let anyone into the building. Everyone in the city of ChengDu was outdoors. All traffic lanes were full because almost everybody was going somewhere to check on somebody. I saw one bus with people packed in like sardines. The sidewalks were full of pedestrians. The bicycle lanes were full of pedestrians, bicyclists, and many other people just standing there looking bewildered. I know how they felt: I didn't know what to do, either.

During the first hour after the earthquake, people exhibited restrained panic. During the second hour, they were somewhat sullen (and still scared). After that, they had to wait and they were weary ... and worried. Some cellphones worked, but most did not. People had more success making phone calls at little snack shops where you use the vendor's telephone and then pay cash. I saw some dangling power lines when I was riding my bicycle to work. I noticed one to my left, and it was near a police car in the outer lane of traffic (which was moving at less than a snail's pace). I pointed it out to my Chinese friend. "I think that could be dangerous, and I think you should tell that policeman about it." She did. In my opinion, policemen and doctors have at least one thing in common: they think anything is easier to handle than hysteria. So STEP ONE is to assure the public or the patient that everything is under control. I could tell by his gestures (even though I don't understand Chinese) that we was saying "Okay, no big deal!" and that's what my friend said that he said (my paraphrase).

This morning at 1 am I opened my balcony door and it seemed that some kind of public announcement was being made. It was in Chinese, of course, and I didn't understand a word (and I still don't know what advice was given). It's now 11:30 pm on Tuesday (the day after the earthquake) and we just felt another aftershock. Even little aftershocks are big triggers for adrenalin.

A friend from Texas recommended Psalm 46. I think I'll go read it again.
—Mary Meyer, ChengDu (Sichuan)

No stranger to quakes
On Monday, I was using my computer and was trying to save some files in my USB drive. I looked at the time and it was 2:11 PM. I was late for my class. And suddenly I felt that I was shaking & moving as if I was in a car. I looked down at my legs to see if I was moving them or not. To my surprise, I wasn't. Then I suddenly realized that the whole earth, my apartment was shaking. I could hear the windows rattling strangely and a kind of strange feeling. Right at that time, my dog started barking. I realized that what I was experiencing was an earthquake.

I am no stranger to an earthquake. In 2005, my hometown Kashmir was devastated by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. So I got up, picked up my cellphone and rushed toward the door. My dog did the same. He followed me outside. As I opened my apartment door, I could already hear people running and shouting. As I opened the door and went outside, so many people were coming out of their apartments. Some were crying and running toward the road. I started to walk toward the road too cause the whole place was covered with tall buildings and everyone was feeling a bit uncomfortable. The ground was still shaking.

I dialed my sister's cellphone and thank God, it got through. She picked up and I told her to get out of the class. She was telling me the same. After that the phone got cut off and I couldn't call anyone.. but thank God for the SMS service 'cause that was still intact. Sent SMS to friends, they replied. The whole streets of Xi'an were packed with people. Most of us slept outside in parks, playgrounds, 24 hours - MacDonalds, coffee houses.... And the same exercise was followed again at 4:30AM early Tuesday morning. It was a horrible experience. I am still feeling a bit dizzy by the vibrations. May God give peace to the people who lost the families, friends in this tragedy in Chengdu.
—Imtenan Sharif, medical student of Xi'an Jiaotong University
Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province

I saw the news yesterday [Monday] morning and immediately start calling China as all my family lives in Chengdu. I was horrified and crying as the phone couldn't get through. I kept on trying and it finally connected, luckily no one in my family got hurt. My aunt was at yoga class at the time, and she first thought there's a very noisy construction or remodeling of the story above the class. Then everyone realized it's a earthquake, and they quickly ran outside to the middle of the street.

She said she was so scared as it was the largest earthquake she experienced. She later went home to check, and find some of the walls were cracked up (she lives on the second floor of a 11-story-high building). She said most buildings in Chengdu built after 1990 were built according to standards in case a 8.0 earthquake happens, but no one would actually expect it to happen. My grandma was an inpatient at a hospital and the nurses and doctors were able to get everyone out (thank them so much!). Chengdu did experience few aftershocks, but things are getting better as everyone helping each other out.
—Renee Li, Houston

'We grabbed our kids and ran'
I am a kindergarten teacher in the Chengdu City, Sichuan. Most of the kids in school were still sleeping as siesta ends around 2:45. Our school began to shake. First it was a slow quiet movement and seconds later it became faster and faster and you could hear the sounds from our building and the surrounding skyrises. We grabbed kids and ran. Teachers and staff from school poured out of every opening with kids in arms and in tow.

Our school is a two-story building set amongst tall apartment houses. We could see all the buildings shaking back and forth. We were terrified of the taller buildings around us. A high school that is set back from the surrounding houses opened their gates and we took our children and ran as fast as we could. Everything was suddenly quiet. Everyone was caught off guard as Chengdu is not a city that is prone to earthquakes. We sat on their track field for 3 hours waiting for parents to come and collect the kids. 15-minute bus rides were taking more then 3 hours.

Every corner and street was filled with people. A city of 10 million was outside with no where to go. Roads that were set away from buildings became tent cities. Sleeping bags, blankets, tarps, anything to lay down and sleep on was used. Every public space imaginable became a pocket community people sharing water, snacks, radios and phones. We are blessed our kids are safe.
— Kris Lam, Chengdu

Seemed like an eternity
My name is Ed Foy from Canada and I am an English teacher at Tanghu high school here in Chengdu, China. Yesterday when the earthquake struck, I was teaching a class, when the entire building I was in shook violently for what seemed like an eternity. All of the students and teachers at our school (3000 students in all ) rushed from the school buildings and to the front of the school. No one was injured in the rush to safety. Last night the school had everyone sleep on the school sports field as a precautionary measure as aftershocks continueed throughout the late afternoon yesterday and overnight last night. School has been suspended here in Chengdu until further notice.

Since the quake our cell phone cannot phone out to speak with anyone which has heightened fears among the parents of the students. Shortly after the quake struck here in Chengdu, many parents showed up at the school in fear that their child or children were injured or killed from the quake. I saw many of them as they arrived and they were visibly upset and feared the worst. Fortunately all of the children and staff are safe albeit very frightened from what took pace during and after the massive earthquake yesterday!
—Ed Foy, Chengdu

A bumpy ride
I live in the city of Chengdu, 100km away from epicenter. I was surfing the internet when the earthquake attacked. All of a sudden, the building started shaking and stuffs were falling down to the ground from tables and bed. I was quite scared not knowing what to do. I had never experienced an earthquake before so that I went blank. Seconds later I came to myself. It was OK then. My families are all safe and sound. It is not that scaring. It was just like your building was traveling on a bumpy road for a few seconds. Then you are back to the real world.
—Shao Hann, Chengdu

Relatives abroad
My wife and stepdaughter are from the Sichuan province. I have been there myself several times since 2004. Needless to say, my wife has been in constant contact with her family during the last 24 hours. Her immediate family is okay but shaken from the catastrophe, although my step-daughter's father is a member of the police force and has been hospitalized after a building collapsed during a rescue effort in Mianyang.

My wife is extremely distraught because she worked in the WenChuan region last year and had several coworkers, friends, and a boss whom she liked very much. Even though recent reports claim that rescuers have reached the hardest hit areas, BeiChuan, and WenChuan, actually some parts of WenChuan are still out of reach because of the mountainous area, heavy rain, and landslides.
—Matthew Walden, Indianapolis, Ind.

Streets choked with people in Xi'an
I am an ESL Teacher stationed in Xi'an, China. I began to feel the quake here at just after two in the afternoon. The others living in the apartment complex where I am began rushing outside, fearing the building might collapse. Even after the quake was over, the apartment building was swaying for several minutes.

During the quake, I could see people running outside. The Cell network throughout the entire are was severely disrupted for several hours. Even now, I am having a difficult time calling anyone on my cell phone.

After the quake was over, I went outside. Most of the apartment residents were milling around. The street was choked with people who had fled their businesses and apartments. Some were hysterical and crying. Traffic was almost at a standstill on my street.

The hysteria did not take long to die down and things quickly returned to a state of relative normalcy.
—Seth Weiner

Numerous aftershocks
I am currently staying in Pengshan, which is about 50 km south of Chengdu. When the earthquake hit, the people I am staying with were not quite sure what to do. I told them to stand in the doorway. After 2 minutes, the rumbling and shaking of the building stopped and we evacuated to the streets. Aftershocks have been numerous since the initial quake, which struck around 2:30. Businesses closed up very quickly and people took the streets. The roadways were packed and it was impossible to hire a cab. Currently, people are sleeping in the park because they are afraid to return to the "highrise" apartment buildings for fear of collapse as well as fresh memories from the series of earthquakes that struck in the 90s that were very destructive.

Even with the most recent aftershock, which just took place at 11:29 pm, I was asked if I wanted to take to the streets again.

After the quake itself, the police stations flashed a red alert light, notifying people that there was an emergency. Police cars patrolled the streets in droves to ensure that, depite heavy pedestrian traffic, order was maintained.

It was truly amazing to see how devoted the hospital staff in the affected area reacted. Newborns were all evacuated from the hospital by nurses as well as those who could walk, while nurses in ICU stayed at their posts to ensure that those patients remained well cared for. It is truly amazing to see how quickly the government has responded, not only in its dispatching of emergency services but volunteers, the army, and other organizations. I have never seen so many people act so selflessly to ensure the safety of so many.
—Charles Skowronsk

New building sustains little damage in Chengdu
I am an American living and teaching at a university about 25 km NE of Chengdu in Xindu which is  a district of Chengdu.  At the time of the quake, I was in a classroom on the 3rd floor of a university building.  The building is less than 5 years old and sustained with minimal damage.  None of the 45 students in my class were injured nor were any others that I noticed on the campus of about 12,000.

During the quake which lasted approximately 4 minutes, I stood in the doorway and directed my students away from the windows which run along one wall of the classroom.  They attempted to push past me into the hallway, but there were ceiling tiles and light fixtures falling from the ceiling.  I didn't allow them to leave the classroom until the shaking stopped.

When we did leave, we ran outside where others were gathered.  No one was allowed inside.  The only damage I noticed was a large 10 foot square stone exterior which fell from one of the buildings.

I live on the 11th floor of an apartment building.  In my apartment, some floor vases were broken, but there was no other apparent damage.  We were told to go to a park nearby and instructed to stay there for 2 days because of after shocks, but when it began to rain at about 11 pm, everyone went to their homes.

Mobile phone communications were out between the time the quake started until about 9 pm, intermittent until 11 pm.  At 9 pm, telephone, internet, and TV service was restored.
—Mark Repesh

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