China's tribute to quake victims
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
(05-20) 04:00 PDT Beijing - --
For three minutes that seemed like an eternity, this very busy nation of 1.3 billion people stopped shopping, producing, eating, talking, driving.
Instead, they stood still Monday, heads bowed in mourning in commemoration of victims of last week's earthquake. The memorial began at 2:28 p.m., exactly one week after the deadly tremor. Many said it was the biggest display of mourning in China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
With each passing day since the quake struck, there is more to grieve. The Chinese government announced Monday that more than 200 rescue workers had perished over the last two days, mainly because of landslides set off by aftershocks. There was little detail provided, except that 158 of those killed were transportation workers who were buried while trying to repair a road leading to the epicenter in the town of Wenchuan in Sichuan province.
Fears of more aftershocks were fueled by a report from three provincial earthquake centers that a strong tremor between 6 to 7 in magnitude would strike over the next 24 hours.
The confirmed death toll from last week's magnitude 7.9 earthquake was raised Monday to more than 34,000 and is expected to climb to 50,000.
To mark the country's largest natural disaster in more than 30 years, the Chinese government declared a three-day mourning period beginning Sunday. Movie theaters were closed. Television stations canceled most entertainment programs, and movie networks such as HBO and Cinemax were blacked out. The Olympic torch relay was suspended until Wednesday. Flags flew at half-staff.
From Beijing's Tiananmen Square to Shanghai's Bund to the far-flung villages where rescue workers were still trying to dig out the living from the rubble, everything simply came to a pause. It was an amazing sight in a country that on a normal Monday afternoon would be a hive of activity. Trains stopped in their tracks. Cars on the huge ring roads encircling Beijing stopped. Drivers in unison leaned on their horns so that a giant siren seemed to be shrieking.
People stood up inside buses and trains. Office workers stood on the sidewalks, students at their desks and on playgrounds. Police officers cradled their caps in their arms as they stood at attention. Many wept openly.
At the end of the memorial, the crowd erupted in cries of "Long Live China," with students waving the red Chinese flag.
This article appeared on page A - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.