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Article---Survivors recount heroic teachers in SW China quake nightmares

2008-05-22 00:00

"Granny Du, we've found granny Du!" teachers and parents searching the ruins for life at Nanba Primary School rushed to the scene when they heard the yell.

At about 10 o'clock on May 14, two days after the most devastating earthquake in three decades that rocked southwest China's Sichuan Province, rescuers dug out Du Zhengxiang, a 48-year-old local teacher, when they removed a floor slab in the debris of the primary school building that collapsed and buried pupils in the earthquake.

Du Zhengxiang, called Granny Du by pupils, was found dead bending over the rubble and facing the door. She held one child in each of her hands and shielded three others under her bosom.

"Du would have run out if she had not tried to save the pupils," said Yang Shulan, her colleague, in tears.

Yang saw Du, who had worked for 20 years at the Nanba Primary School of Pingwu County, Mianyang City, push an old lady who accompanied her grandson to school out of the building when the earthquake rocked the campus on May 12 afternoon.

Du then turned about and rushed back into the classroom to pull more pupils out. As she dashed into the building for the third time, the three-floor structure collapsed and buried Du and others in the rubble.

Yan Zhengming, her husband, choked with sobs, "I know she would surely do that. She's been so kind to pupils."

The 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan Province at 2:28 p.m. on May 12, with Wenchuan County at the epicenter. The tremors were felt in most parts of the country. The death toll was 34,073 nationwide, while 245,108 people were injured as of May 19, according to the Information Office of the State Council. The rescue headquarters feared the ultimate death toll might top 50,000.

The earthquake caused chaos in many schools across Sichuan. In Dujiangyan, the city that neighbors the epicenter of Wenchuan County, 900 children of Juyuan Middle School were buried in the quake. At least 1,000 students and teachers were dead or missing when the main building of Beichuan Middle School in Mianyang City collapsed. Beichuan is about 160 kilometers northeast of Wenchuan.

At least 200 school children were buried when two schools affiliated to a steam turbine factory in Hanwang Township of Mianzhu, 30 kilometers from the epicenter Wenchuan, toppled in the quake. Several other schools collapsed in Deyang City and Aba Prefecture, near the epicenter. An exact headcount of casualties is not immediately available.

In face of the deadly blow, the Chinese people have demonstrated love, courage and perseverance - qualities which it is hoped will help them pull through this disaster.

While lamenting over the shockingly fragile life, people feel clearly the love of valiant and compassionate teachers sacrificing their lives to save pupils amid the catastrophe.

In a similar gesture to Du Zhengxiang, Zhang Miya, a mathematics teacher at the Yingxiu Township primary school of Wenchuan County, situated in steep hills north of Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu, was found dead having put himself between falling floor slabs and two pupils on Thursday.

The 29-year-old knelt on debris, extending both arms to hug the two students. On his back was some of the fallen wreckage of the building. Under his arms, the children were alive.

Tan Qianqiu, a 50-year-old teacher in Dongqi Middle School, Deyang County, was found dead in the rubble of his school on May 13, his body protecting four of his students who were found alive.

Qu Wanrong, a 21-year-old kindergarten teacher in Mianzhu city, also used her own body to take the brunt of a tumbling concrete slab and shield a child when the schoolhouse at which she taught collapsed. She died, but the child was saved.

After rescuing five students in a severely damaged schoolhouse in Tongjiang County, Gou Xiaochao, a 24-year-old schoolteacher, rushed back into the building to save another three - an act of valor that ultimately cost him his life.

Wu Zhonghong, a 45-year-old English teacher, also died after he dashed back into Huaiyuan Middle School in Chongzhou City, to rescue two students left behind during the building's evacuation. Because of his selflessness, the students survived the schoolhouse's collapse, but Wu did not.

While self-sacrificing teachers laid down their lives to save pupils, they were often helpless to save their own children in the catastrophe.

Cuddling her son's body, Nie Xiaoyan wailed. The teacher from Yingxiu Township kindergarten in Wenchuan saved two children when the earthquake happened, but her own child, three years old, was killed. She wrapped the dead baby with a new quilt and wiped off dust from his cheek, so gently as if the boy would wake up.

Liu Ning, a teacher of the No. 1 Middle School in the quake-battered Beichuan County, saved all the 59 seventh-graders in his class when they were attending a party at an auditorium off the campus.

"The building rocked and I knew it was an earthquake." Liu instructed the students to hide under the chairs, which shielded them from falling rubble.

When the quake was over and they went out, they found the county was flattened. They went back to school, only to find its building had been reduced to rubble.

Unfortunately, Liu was unable to save his own daughter, who was studying in another classroom in the very same school. Liu burst into tears when he saw the corpse of his daughter, a ninth-grader at Beichuan Middle School.

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