Beichuan was struck by panic today (Saturday) and hurriedly evacuated, as rumours spread through the quake-ravaged city that a river up-mountain had burst its banks. Fear of flood waters bearing down on the remains of the city were enough to prompt a complete evacuation, halting the rescue efforts in their tracks.
The BBC’s Paul Danahar has been reporting throughout the day of the stampede of thousands of people, whose nerves are shattered after a week of such upheaval. The fact that survivors still being dug out of the wreckage had to be left where they were, really adds a cruel twist to the terrible events of the week:
“Everybody just ran – rescuers, army relief teams, medical workers and locals – and people who were in the process of being rescued had to be left behind.”
As the death toll of the earthquake in Sichuan continues to rise, time is getting shorter and shorter for the tens of thousands still buried; several people have been rescued on Saturday after up to 117 hours buried. The official total has reached 28,881, as of Saturday. So when all rescue efforts were suspended today, the delay could have been fatal for some of those still trapped.
Rescuers and residents have been returning to Beichuan, as the realisation that the rumours were a false alarm has reached them. Bob sincerely hopes that this delay has not cost any more lives.
At this stage there does not appear to be any speculation about the validity of the rumour, or the handling of the situation. Across the press and blogosphere both within China and internationally there appears to be wide-spread support for the Chinese authorities’ search and rescue efforts.