Chinese in Haiti may be evacuated

A Chinese doctor, one of many medical workers sent to Haiti following the devastating quake last Tuesday, treats an injured survivor in Port-au-Prince. [Yuan Man/China Daily]

The government is considering evacuating all Chinese nationals from the Haiti disaster zone, Foreign Ministry officials said yesterday.

If local conditions become too difficult and no country can offer shelter to the Chinese living in Haiti, the government is prepared to evacuate all nationals, Wei Wei, director of the ministry's consular department, said.

Apart from the Chinese in Haiti on governmental or other business, Wei said he believed there are about 10 other nationals in Haiti - mainly working for mainland companies or at local Chinese restaurants - as well as about 20 illegal immigrants.

Amid the ongoing relief efforts following the 7.0-magnitude quake, the capital Port-au-Prince has been hit by sporadic violence and looting. However, Wei said that all Chinese nationals there have been safely accommodated.

A chartered flight took 11 staff of ZTE, a Chinese communications technology company, to neighboring Dominican Republic on Friday.

There are also about 30 Taiwan residents in Haiti and, although Wei had no specific details, he said the government would provide help to anyone who requested it. One Taiwan resident has asked for help, he said without elaborating.

About 230 Chinese were in Haiti at the time of the disaster. Most are safe but eight Chinese police officers on a peacekeeping mission died in a collapsed United Nations building. Their bodies were being flown home last night on a chartered flight.

More than 50,000 people have died in the aftermath of the quake, and the final death toll could be as high as 200,000, according to Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, the nation's interior minister.

And while the disaster last Tuesday may have happened on the other side of the world, the shock has been felt deeply in China, especially in Sichuan province, where residents are still recovering from the 8-magnitude quake that struck there on May 12, 2008, and killed more than 69,000.

"Hearing about this disaster in Haiti, although it is far away, it is as if the cracks beneath our feet have opened up again. It has all come rushing back for us," said Li Yong, a farmer in Beichuan, the county worst hit by the 2008 quake.

The horrific disaster brings back bad memories for the people who lived through the Wenchuan earthquake. Huang Zhiling in Chengdu, Guo Anfei in Kunming and Wang Shanshan in Beijing report

Li Yong's family lost their home in the 2008 disaster and now live in a shabby temporary home built with wooden boards. His 18-year-old son, Li Anqiang, also had both legs amputated after being pulled from the rubble of the collapsed Beichuan Middle School. Many of his classmates were killed.

Apart from what they make selling potatoes, the family survives on a monthly government subsidy of just 800 yuan ($120), which is paid to them to help care for Li Anqiang. But despite the family's struggles, Li Yong said they are desperate to help those left in similar situations by the 7.3-magnitude quake in Haiti.

"We heard about the deaths through our neighbors. The people in Haiti are much poorer than we are, and we really want to help them. I hope that we can do something for them," he said. "Our life is good. After what we have gone through, we really feel sorry for the people in Haiti."

Many in Sichuan, particularly children, are still in too much trauma to hear the word "earthquake", said Wang Zhihang, 53, a volunteer who tours schools in the area offering emotional support to victims.

"Those children who have been able to face the reality of the disaster in Haiti have shown real concern for the victims. Most have already joined in with fundraising events at schools across the province," said Wang, who is based in the provincial capital, Chengdu.

The people in Sichuan understand full well the kind of relief operation that is now under way in Haiti. For those who were close to the epicenter in 2008, such as 20-year-old student Wang Li, they will also be able to understand the true terror of being trapped for hours by rubble.

Wang was attending class at her middle school in Xiaode when the disaster struck - and was on the fourth floor when the building collapsed.

"The disaster in Haiti reminds me of the hours I was trapped in the dark. I was there for one day and one night," she said. "I passed out immediately when the building fell, but when I regained consciousness I could see I was buried under rock with two classmates. I knew one of them was dead. I called her name but she didn't respond. I reached out and checked her pulse, but her heart had already stopped beating."

Wang lost her left leg in the disaster and had to take the national college entrance exam in a hospital ward during her recovery. She now studies at Chongqing Electronic and Engineering College.

"As I am a student, I cannot help out the Haitians financially but I feel their agony. All I can do is to pray for them," she said.

Wei Min, 18, also lost a leg in the Sichuan earthquake. She was so moved by the kindness shown by strangers during her treatment in Chongqing, she has set her heart on a career in social work as a way to repay some of the compassion she experienced.

"With international aid, I believe Haiti will recover, although the process of recovering from an earthquake is lengthy," said Wei, who is from a poor farming family in Leigu, Beichuan county.

A young mother holds her baby as she uses a Red Cross Society of China donation box in Guangyuan, Sichuan, where many people say they hope to help victims in Haiti. [Liu Ren/China Daily]

China sent 30 million yuan ($4.4 million) in humanitarian aid to Haiti on Friday - days after the Red Cross of China offered $1 million - and has also dispatched 50 members of its National Earthquake Disaster Relief Team to help rescue people trapped under the rubble of collapsed homes and municipal buildings.

The country hopes to extend its relief and reconstruction efforts, said Shen Zhiliang, deputy head of the foreign ministry's department of Latin American and Caribbean affairs.

As well as official aid, volunteers from Sichuan are also attempting to get to the Caribbean nation to help out. Among them is Fan Xiaofan, 53, a volunteer with the Chengdu emergency team for eight years and one of 16 members looking to head to Haiti to assist the major multinational relief operation.

"If we get permits to go to Haiti, we can be ready to leave in one hour," said Fan, who helped in the post-earthquake reconstruction of Tangshan, Hebei province, in 1976.

Chen Yan, deputy director of the Sichuan emergency team, is also preparing to make the 13,000-km journey to Port-au-Prince, capital of the Caribbean country. Within just hours of hearing about the disaster, he had collected his rescue equipment and booked a flight to Beijing to join up with the National Earthquake Disaster Relief Team.

However, he was unable to travel with the team because he is not on the official payroll. He is now awaiting a visa for the United States, where he will then attempt to fly to Haiti.

"Once I arrive in New York, I will try to get a visa for Haiti. As it will take some 20 hours to arrive in Haiti via the US, I will miss the best time to save people from the rubble. But as a man from Sichuan, I must go there," said Chen, 38.

"Overseas rescue and medical teams helped Sichuan in the earthquake in 2008, and countless people in the world donated money and material to us. Sichuan people must repay that kindness by participating in the earthquake relief in Haiti."

He said the best time to help people escape the rubble alive was the first 72 hours after the disaster. As Chen will be unable to reach Haiti for some days yet, he said he would concentrate his efforts on helping to get more aid from China to Port-au-Prince.

"It is better for me to ask non-government organizations to donate when I am in Haiti, so I can tell them how serious the disaster is," he said.

Chinese people have been expressing their respect for their eight dead compatriots, four of whom were officials sent by the Ministry of Public Security to support peacekeeping efforts in Port-au-Prince, while the rest were United Nations police officers from Southwest China.

The bodies of Zhu Xiaoping, Wang Shulin, Guo Baoshan, Li Xiaoming, Zhao Huayu, Li Qin, Zhong Jianqin and He Zhihong were to arrive in China this morning on a chartered China Southern Airlines flight.

The ministry turned its website black yesterday and opened online mourning sites. So far, more than 336,200 people have presented "virtual bouquets". Major Chinese website portals also opened mourning columns, with more than 666,800 netizens presenting virtual flowers through sina.com.

Police across the country have also been mourning their colleagues, with more than 13,000 border officers in Yunnan province - where three of the UN officers came from - paying their respects with ceremonies at several stations.

Citizens of Kunming, capital of Yunnan, paid tribute in the mourning hall at the police command offices, which were specially opened to the public, said Fan Yuquan, a command publicity officer. More people were expected to come before the venue closed on Thursday, he said.

Zheng Tao, husband of He Zhihong, 38, of Lijiang, Yunnan, paid tribute to her yesterday by saying she was "the perfect wife".

"We have a 3-year-old boy and he's been asking why he hasn't seen his mother for so long. She first left for her peacekeeping in Haiti in December 2007, when our boy was only one. This was her second time out there," said Zheng, who married He, a Chinese Armed Police Force major, in 2003.

China sent officers to assist peacekeeping efforts in Haiti when it was hit by an outbreak of violence following floods in 2004, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday. The Red Cross Society of China also donated funds after the country was devastated by hurricanes in 2008.

A foreign ministry official said at the news briefing that China has made many contributions to UN peacekeeping missions around the world, and would consider sending more peacekeepers to Haiti if needed.

"China will consider it according to decisions made by the UN Security Council and UN requests," said Yang Tao, counselor of the Ministry's department of international organizations and conferences.

The country has sent 14,000 peacekeepers on 24 UN missions, while about 2,100 Chinese officers are currently working in 10 areas, he said.

[source:china daily]