Monday, April 19, 2010

Monks Bolster China’s Quake Relief Effort

China — Long after the bulldozers have gone silent and the rescue workers have retired to their tents, the only sound in this earthquake-battered city is the plaintive barking of dogs that have lost their homes, and in many cases, their owners.

As the smoke from a thousand campfires filled the air early Sunday morning, solitary figures shuffled through the darkness, heading to no place in particular. Some, like Tsai Ba Mao, 63, were drawn to a tent off the city’s main square, where Buddhist monks had created a makeshift temple filled with rows of yak-butter lamps. A cardboard sign above the entrance read “Pray for the dead,” written in Chinese and Tibetan.

Like nearly everyone else in Jiegu, a high-altitude city in western Qinghai Province, Ms. Tsai was grappling with loss, in her case, the death of her 34-year-old son in the collapse of the family’s home. “I can’t sleep,” she said. “The pain is too great.”

The earthquake, which struck early Wednesday, killed at least 1,700 people in Jiegu, famed for its horse-racing festival and purebred Tibetan mastiffs. With hundreds of people still buried under rubble, the toll is expected to rise. Everyone, it seems, lost a relative.

The Chinese government has undertaken an aggressive relief effort. In recent days the city has been flooded with soldiers, medics and supplies. The response has been so great, and traffic downtown so bad, that the government has urged volunteers to stay away.

President Hu Jintao, who cut short a state visit to South America after the quake struck, flew to Jiegu on Sunday, consoling victims and promising to rebuild. “There will be new schools!” he wrote on a blackboard in a tent filled with orphaned children, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. “There will be new homes!”

But perhaps just as striking as Beijing’s rescue-and-relief juggernaut is the highly visible operation mounted by Buddhist monks, thousands of whom have traveled long distances from Tibetan areas of the country. They distribute packaged biscuits, tend huge vats of barley and dig for bodies.

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