Man pulled out alive after 11 days under China quake rubble
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Times Online

For everyone camped around in the wreckage of Mianzhu, it was a miracle that seemed too reckless even to dream of.

But 11 days after the devastating earthquake that demolished many of the buildings in China's SIchuan province, just when the idea of finding any further survivors had slipped beyond public imagination, an 80-year old man was reclaimed from the rubble of his home – unhurt and alive.

For 266 long and terrible hours since the May 12 earthquake, Xiao Zhihu had lain in the ruins of his house, pinned to the ground beneath a heavy pillar.

Even if the collapsed remnants of his room had allowed him to move, he might not have got far: partially paralysed from before the quake, the old man was one of the more unlikely survivors of the deadly tremors which the Chinese government now says killed 60,500 people.

But not long after the quake, Mr Xiao was discovered by his wife. She could not move him and neither, for a long time, could the teams of rescuers who descended on the remote mountain town. She did, however, manage to pass her husband food and water to live on until experts could carefully unpick the ruins around him. When he was finally freed, after eleven days entombed in shattered concrete, he was described by doctors as “stable”.

Mr Xiao’s extraordinary survival has briefly raised hopes for some similar miracle rescue of 24 coal miners missing in three pits around the region.

Despite the elation that accompanied his rescue though, any truly happy ending may remain elusive. With Zhihu now freed, the Xiao family will join millions of others from the region in the massive tent cities of quake refugees. Disease is a growing concern, as are the provision of clean water and more shelter.

Foreign aid has continued to arrive and supplement China’s own extensive relief efforts, but Sichuan now faces a potentially deadly foe in the elements. Heavy rain is forecast for tonight which is expected to turn many vital roads into muddy danger zones. With the mountainsides still loosened by the quakes and their aftershocks, the risk of further landslides is significant.

Perhaps even greater is the risk of floods caused by the many so-called “quake lakes” that have appeared in the valleys around the quake stricken region. Although the government has until now said that the lakes are “temporarily stable” and that people have been evacuated from the potential flood zones, heavy rain presents the risk that one or more of the lakes may burst its banks.

This morning the Chinese water ministry reported that 69 stretches of water were in danger of bursting their confines.

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