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University of the Fraser Valley students caught up in China earthquake

Group of 10 students, one professor unharmed


 

A group of B.C. students caught up in a massive earthquake in China ran into a nearby sports field to flee the building crumbling around them, says their faculty supervisor. None of the 10 students and one faculty member were injured in the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province on Monday.But Chris Bertram, the University of the Fraser Valley professor accompanying the students, described a chaotic scene. “We were in the building off to the side of the big open track and field space when the quake hit,” Bertram said in a statement issued by the university Tuesday. “We had to scramble out of the room we were in while the ceiling was crumbling down, and then through a short maze of narrow corridors that finally opened onto a sports field, where we stood or fell for a good minute while the ground bounced us around.”

He said they were quickly joined by about 40,000 others seeking refuge outside. “The scene in that field was more surreal than anything I have ever seen,” Bertram said.

He said the students spent the first night outside, but expected to sleep inside Tuesday night.

He said it had been difficult to tell when an aftershock is hitting, or when it’s simply a false alarm. “Another interesting thing we have figured out is that we cannot trust ourselves to detect the tremors,” he said. “This is mainly due to false alarms, which is something we are all experiencing, particularly when we lay down to try and nap.”

The quake killed more than 12,000 people in China.

Greg Anderson, head of the university’s kinesiology department, said he finally spoke to the Bertram on Monday night. “There are still aftershocks but they were getting in out of the rain, because it started to rain with all those people outside,” Anderson said. Anderson said the students, aged 20 to 28, spent about 18 hours outside in the rain before they could go back in.

“The electricity came back on for them. They had food, water, shelter, electricity,” he said. “They still hadn’t slept much because they left the building every time there was an aftershock.” Anderson said Bertram had sporadic use of his Blackberry and tried to let the students contact their families back home. “We’re still trying to figure out what we will be doing with them in the next couple days, but for now at least, they’re safe. They’re not rested well, but they’re all in better spirits,” Anderson said.

The students were in Chengdu and are part of a summer semester program on Chinese medicine offered by a university there.

Moises Abubo of Surrey, B.C., said his family received an e-mail from his grandson, Christopher De Guzman, 20, soon after the quake telling them he was OK. “We were worried, and we didn’t know if they were affected by the earthquake,” Abubo said in an interview.

But Abubo said De Guzman’s family is still worried he could be in danger. “There might be some aftershocks, and that’s dangerous,” said Abubo. “I think the school should make a decision for them to come back. Maybe the best thing for them is to just continue their studies here.”

The airport in Chengdu has been closed to commercial traffic, and the university said there are no plans as of yet to bring the group home. “We can’t really get them home quite yet,” Anderson said. “We’re just playing all that by ear. As we get information from them we’ll update what we might be able to do with them. Right now they’re safe and they have everything they need and we’re grateful for that.”

Anderson said information has been scant. “We’re supplying information that they can’t get in China,” he said.

Here in Canada, members of Canada’s only urban search and rescue team say it appears their highly specialized team will not be going to China to help with rescue efforts. Brian Inglis, leader of the team based in Vancouver, said the federal government would have to provide a heavy-lift aircraft to move all the gear needed for the team to search the shattered buildings for survivors. The urban search and rescue team was acclaimed for its work helping victims of the New Orleans hurricane but it must be dispatched by a federal order that Inglis says appears increasingly unlikely to come.

-with a report from CP


 
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