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Newsvine Q&A: Adrienne Mong on China's earthquake

A summary of the questions posed by the Newsvine community, and the corresponding answers provided by Adrienne Mong, NBC News' Beijing Producer.

Thanks for the opportunity, Adrienne.

The death toll in China is almost unfathomable. Obviously the toll is sure to climb even higher - but by how much? I know it would be nearly impossible to accurately depict what the future holds for the earthquake's body count, but if you could make a guess, where would it lie?

Good luck over there and my best wishes to all those affected.
-Brandon Kiser

Hi Brandon - thanks for taking part. I'll be here for the next couple of hours to answer (or try to answer!) questions about the quake.

I don't think anyone could guess the final count, but very early on the Chinese authorities said they thought the death toll would exceed 50,000. The number missing as of today is nearly 34,000 so it's probably not too difficult to expect the final death count will be 80,000 or thereabouts. A key challenge for relief/rescue workers has been to reach some of the more remote villages. We've all heard about towns like Beichuan (which is the town that was so destroyed it most likely will be rebuilt somewhere else) or Yingxiu (near the epicentre and where the majority of its 10,000-odd residents were killed). But there are tens of thousands of small communities -- with as few as a few dozen residents -- littered all over the mountainside. And given that Sichuan is so densely populated - nearly 90 million people - it's not surprising the death toll would be so high.

We've seen two very different approaches to disasters of massive scale in Asia the last month. The government of Myanmar has received a great deal of criticism for their handling, but I've read that the response to the disaster in China has resulted in a surge of civic pride and volunteerism. First, have you seen such a surge, and if so what do you think its long-term impact will be for China?
-spiffie

Definitely we have seen an incredible turnout of ordinary Chinese wanting to help in any way or fashion. All the media in China -- web, newspapers, radio, and local, provincial, national tv -- have been broadcasting wall to wall coverage of the quake, and the images of tremendous suffering and loss have really moved people. I'm not sure how to explain why a tragedy of this scale would inspire national pride, but within the context of all that's happened this year (the winter storms over the new year, the Tibet unrest, the torch relay protests, looking ahead to the Olympics this summer), nationalism/patriotism in China seems to have gained momentum -- although this current display of civic pride, as you call it, seems much more constructive than the nationalist sentiment expressed over the torch relay and Tibet.

Also, I think one has to consider that the Chinese are enormously proud of what they have achieved in nearly 30 years of unprecedented political stability (Tiananmen Square notwithstanding) and rapid economic growth. Despite all the pitfalls of this kind of development and urbanizations (eg, pollution and environmental degradation or the widening economic gap), people here in general are proud of how far their country has come. And they're proud of the fact that they think they can emerge from this natural disaster with minimal outside assistance.

One hopes that long term this feeds into a natural evolution of nation-state confidence that is more productive and constructive than simply rabid nationalism. And for the younger generation, the so-called Balinghou (those born after the 1980s) who have been characterized as being self-centered and indifferent to politics and the concept of a civil society, it's quite possible this will provide them an opportunity to participate in a great civic effort and engage them with greater Chinese society in a way they have not had to before.

One last thing to bear in mind is that volunteerism is not new to the Chinese. It has a long if somewhat patchy history, but during the country's turbulent times you still saw it in plenty of evidence amongst the elite and the overseas Chinese -- many of whom would send money back home to families or to rebuild their own communities.

The most interesting aspect to all this will be whether there is a greater space allowed - by the current government - for civil society elements to develop and flourish, eg, NGOs or independent organizations.

Thanks for responding. I think this part would be very interesting to see:

The most interesting aspect to all this will be whether there is a greater space allowed - by the current government - for civil society elements to develop and flourish, eg, NGOs or independent organizations.

Especially given those organizations roles in American civil society.
-spiffie

I echo Brandon's thanks for this opportunity, Adrienne.

There are reports of foreign rescue teams working alongside Chinese teams. In light of the recent political fervor concerning Tibet and China's human rights record, what can you tell us about the social dynamics between the two groups? I understand that the Chinese have rigorously controlled disaster-zone access for non-rescue personnel, but have there been limits imposed on foreign rescue teams?

In many towns, the destruction has been almost total. However, in places like Chengdu, the physical damage has been minor. We've heard many wrenching stories of those who've seen their lives obliterated, but can you tell us anything about the sentiments of those who've been directly affected, but whose lives need not be rebuilt? How are they coping with the change?

Perhaps as an extension of spiffie's question, how do you think the quake -- with its financial, emotional, and physical tolls -- will impact the Chinese government's political strategies, both as the rescue/salvage effort continues and in the long term?
-Jack Huang

Wow, you are all asking great but tough questions!!

We have not seen many foreign rescue teams ourselves although when I was trailing Ian Williams one day last week, we ran into a group of American structural engineers who had happened to have China visas and hopped on a plane as fast as they could to come out to review/assess the devastation. They were travelling with an engineer from Shanghai, and everyone seemed to work quite well. I have heard that the team of Japanese experts who arrived quite early on experienced some difficulty owing to the language barrier, but generally we have not heard of any impediments facing the foreign rescue teams.

If you were to drive around Chengdu today, as we did, you wouldn't think anything had happened here. Of course, there are lots of tents set up in the parks, but these are not quake victims or survivors, simply local residents afraid to stay in their own homes because of all the aftershocks. I spoke to a woman in Chengdu today who said that she thanks heaven every day that Chengdu was spared. The city, as you probably already know, is home to 11m-12m people and hundreds of high-rises.

I'm not sure I am answering your last question, but one area in which central govt policy I expect will be affected is propaganda/media. Clearly, they have learned from the Tibet example and from watching neighbouring Myanmar. Their responsiveness to the media (as opposed to their responsiveness to the disaster) was unusual -- the fact they have been open with the casualty figures and updating them in daily press conferences, the relative ease with which the local and foreign press have had in travelling pretty much anywhere that wasn't considered dangerous, and of course the amount of coverage given over to the quake. And so far the results have been positive for the Chinese government so it will be interesting to see whether this is a one-off experiment or whether it heralds a shift in attitudes towards media.

As for rescue/salvage efforts, I think that strategy would only change if the Chinese people felt that rescue efforts were too slow. So far there has been no indication of that.

Thank you so much for being here.

My query is that we know so little and it's rather frightening that every time we hear about the death count it goes up by factors of 10.

Do you have any idea of how much damage has really been done, or is the count just going to continue to rise?

Thanks again,

Forest
-Forest Browne

The damage has been documented pretty well so far, again, by the Chinese authorities. They estimate businesses - both state and private - will have lost $9.5 billion. Some 5 million people are homeless (as our Beijing correspondent Mark Mullen notes, that's about the entire population of Atlanta, Georgia). Numerous power grids are off-line although they're making headway in repairing some of them. Clean water supplies are also a problem in some areas. And of course tens of thousands of buildings have been flattened and many more damaged.

And as I said to Brandon earlier, the death toll will continue to rise although it's not clear just how much.

Hi Adrienne, I am so happy you are there.

If you are reading this, please take some very serious notes on the attitude of the PLA. I am quite interested in the fact that the PLA allowed a Japanese Special Forces Unit into the disaster zone and run a rescue mission. This is huge news! Is the PLA actually becoming a modern army working for the people? Is the PLA actually performing the necessary tasks of rescue for the people?

I bring this up only because the PLA has never, in my opinion, reconciled the gilt of Tienanmen Square. Judging from these pictures, it would indicate that the PLA has moved on to a new purpose. I only hope this is true. If it is, then there is hope for Tibet.

please see this link
-uncleandy

Despite the heart-warming pictures we've seen of the PLA helping those in need, I don't think you should ever underestimate the purpose and use of the People's Liberation Army. They serve the state.

Remember this is a natural disaster, not some political calamity, and the Chinese govt is very effective at mobilizing resources - including the PLA - to help its people in this context. And what better way to do it than by using a standing army of 2.2-2.3 million? I don't mean to denigrate the soldiers' work; they have performed amazingly and we hear all the time from the laobaixing (ordinary people) that the Jiefang Jun ("liberation army") is good. Particularly up in the hills, the countryside folks are very grateful for the PLA troops and their rescue/recovery/rebuilding efforts.

Hi Adrienne,

Can you tell us if relief aid is getting through? Which organizations are they letting in and are doing the best work?
-KSoze

There doesn't seem to be any problem for relief aid to arrive in Chengdu. In fact, we covered a delivery of USAID cargo of specialized rescue equipment the other day, accompanied by a team of experts, which included two battalion chiefs from Los Angeles and Fairfax Counties. The state-run news media reported just today that Chinese Customs will expedite all shipments of relief materials arriving.

I'm not entirely clear on how many foreign aid groups are able to come here, but many of the major groups from Europe, Russia, and Japan are here. There are also many smaller local NGOs run by foreigners, which have been active in tracking survivors, particularly children.

Although we've seen China's president, is there a provincial leader in Sichuan, someone who is from this area and knows the extent of the damage? Will China allow relief workers to come and stay for as long as they are needed?
-caroaber
Excellent question. This is a true disaster, think of the Titanic, however, the PLA has the ball, what will they do with it? The resources are there, will they request them? They know everything they need to save lives is at their finger tips, all they need to do is dial the phone.
-uncleandy
China must be pushed to accept help in the guise of lessons learnt and it is a face saving exercise worth pursuing. We should not get comfortable with over 50,000 deaths destructive earthquakes. We must prepare for the big one.
-Beauty
China has been accepting foreign aid, having received donations from numerous Western nations, including the US's contribution of half a million dollars.

It seems that the Chinese have learned from both the their Tangshan and the US's Katrina disasters, and have applied such lessons here.
-Jack Huang

Sichuan's Vice Governor, Li Chengyun, has been holding press conferences almost daily, during which he details the latest casualty figures and losses as a result of the quake. But the Chinese media focus has been, of course, Premier Wen Jiabao or President Hu Jintao and their visits to the quake-stricken areas.

Relief workers will be allowed to stay up to a point. Most NGOs who have worked in China are very savvy about the political sensitivies working here, but it will depend on how much the authorities -- whether they are provincial or central -- want to maintain control.
It also depends, in part, on how perceptions may change over time. Now that the focus has shifted from rescue to recovery, if people begin to feel that the pace of reconstruction is too slow, they will express that -- and that of course is something the central govt does not want to see happen. Nor will they want outsiders to witness that.

And, yes, Jack, I think the leadership in China pays very close attention to how other countries have managed their own disasters. Even after Tangshan, the govt issued very wide-ranging and strict building codes. However, as with many things in China, effecting policy is not enough. Executing them and enforcing regulations pose the real challenge.

These were mountainous regions, were there entire villages that simply slid away? What about the dams, are they holding up? What devastation.
-Double Demon

Oh absolutely entire villages were swept away. We were driving towards Beichuan one day when I lost a lens cap from shooting out the window. We stopped to retrieve it, and as I walked out of the car towards it, I saw a group of people standing by the side of the road overlooking a valley. Some of them were crying, and my curiosity got the better of me. It turned out that among them was a couple who had just returned that morning from Shaanxi Province, where they worked in a coal mine (Sichuan provides an overwhelming number of migrant workers who fan out across China, especially to the south and coastal regions to earn what they hope is a better wage). Fifteen of their relatives had died when a part of the mountain just fell into the valley below during the quake. The youngest member was a 3 month old baby, the eldest was a 72 or 73 year old grandfather. Needless to say, it was heartbreaking. And as I've said before there were many of these tiny hamlets full of small communities dotted all along the valley and hillside.

The dams so far seem to be holding up. But there are growing concerns about some thirty-odd "lakes" that were created from rockfall and landslides that blocked the rivers here. There's a lake near Beichuan which has apparently doubled in size in the last four days. And we're entering rainy season so people are very worried about finding a way to drain these lakes so they don't overflow and flood the surrounding areas.

Thanks for this opportunity to tell you how we feel and ask you our questions. I feel so much respect for the Chinese people, and compassion for the victims, their families.

I was struck by the devastation, and force of the earthquake, and the reports by earthquake engineers from San Francisco, which underwent a similar force earthquake in 1906. How will this disaster change building practices in China, or will it? Are earthquake building regulations on the books now? Will they be written for the rebuilding effort?
-Marilyn L

The Chinese govt issued new building codes after the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, which killed a minimum 240,000 people, but there's some debate over whether they are up to date. Especially in light of the country's massive building boom witnessed the past decade.

Having adequate building codes aren't enough, however. Enforcement is an issue, particularly at the local level, as corruption is widespread. The other challenge is building quake-proof (or however quake-proof you can make a structure) for a reasonable cost. It's expensive to design and construct a building that can withstand a 7.9 quake.

So as with many areas of policy for the central govt, they may enact a whole new set of building codes, but whether those codes can be enforced is an entirely separate question.

Adrienne,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your reporting. It is not easy under the circumstances. I was 7 years old when my dad was stationed in Alaska during the 1964 earthquake. I really didn't know what was going on but I soon realized it was not good.

I pray for the people of the region who are going through this tragedy. Keep up the great work and please be safe.

One question, I have seen what appears to be decontamination operations taking place. Can you tell what these operations are attempting to prevent?

V/R
Robert
Maryland
-Robert-286928

Not unlike other cultures, the Chinese are very uncomfortable with the notion of unburied dead or bodies decomposing in the open. Ordinary folk are extremely sensitive to suggestions that they could be contaminated by being in contact with dead bodies. In addition to teams of disinfecting teams, we also see trucks of workers spraying down vehicles that come from quake-affected areas. Yesterday a toll booth served as a disinfecting/fumigating station; they sprayed our jeep. Whenever we ask them what they're doing, they say they're trying to contain the spread of disease.

Many health experts argue that there is no risk of contamination or disease from a decomposing body. The health risk really comes from the lack of sanitation and clean water plus cramped living conditions for the survivors.

I'm curious as an Asian "faced" reporter from the west, do you see a difference in the way your interviewee respond to you vs. other western media reporters? What about off mike/camera, do you see/feel difference from the local folks you talk to or spend time with?

Finally, in your opinion, is this (your Asian physicality) an advantage or disadvantage from the perspective of reporting?

Thank you!
-Jeff Cheng

Rightly or wrongly, I am treated differently here because I look Asian, but more importantly I can speak Chinese so automatically that gives me access that someone who doesn't speak Chinese cannot have. The Chinese people are incredibly appreciative when non-Chinese speak their language (although in my case they probably wonder why I don't speak well enough!), and they repay this with friendliness and garrulousness. This is also true with many western journalists I know here who are fluent Chinese speakers; they have no problem interviewing people. If anything they probably enjoy a certain advantage -- the novelty factor means someone might be curious enough to be willing to be interviewed. As for the camera, the Chinese respond like anyone else: some people love it, some people are terrified by it.

As for an Asian or Chinese appearance, sure, there's an advantage as a journalist in China. You can blend in when you need to or stand out when you need to. It all depends on the situation.

Great reporting. I wish you'd take a trip to New Orleans and Mississippi to report on how well an industrial giant of a nation recovers from a natural disaster and takes care of its people. We could compare our efforts and progress to those of the Chinese and Burmese.
-Howard-286873

Thanks for your support. I only know New Orleans and that was pre-Katrina -- a great town with wonderful colour, and one day I hope to get to Mississippi. Katrina obviously should have taught us many lessons. Our Beijing correspondent Mark Mullen -- who hails from New Orleans and covered Katrina -- wrote an interesting blog about this very comparison. Please check it out on worldblog.msnbc.msn.com

Hello Ms. Mong! It seems almost impossible to believe that something so terrible and life shattering can happen and affect so many people. One element of this disaster that really tears at my heart is the thought of the families that have lost children (often their ONLY child) and the children who have lost their family and are now alone. Have authorities begun to determine how many children are now orphans as a result of this disaster and how they will be cared for? Might there be opportunities to adopt any of these now familyless children and provide a loving home for them?
-GCB-286869

The authorities face a tremendous challenge in trying to ascertain which children are really orphans. We have heard anecdotes of parents losing children in the rush to escape the quake aftermath -- I mean losing as in misplaced, not dying. There are children whose parents may not have been able to find them yet. All this will take time, and relief workers are doing everything they can in the meantime to provide emotional care and support for these children. Adoption is a possibility, of course, but with the new regulations regarding foreign adoptions of Chinese children, I don't know how easy it will be for non-Chinese to adopt - even in this instance.

Hi Adrienne, I was wondering with such devastation do you think the government will reconsider it's view on one child per family? Will the outpouring of foreign aid do anything to change the climate on human rights?
-Curious In North Carolina

Hard to say whether this disaster and the loss of so many children will change the one-child policy. We revisited a family that had lost their only child, a 13 year old girl, when her school collapsed last Monday. And we asked the mother whether she felt the one-child policy was unfair. She didn't seem overly concerned with the issue -- of course she's still grieving and of course she is just one voice, but we haven't heard criticism of the family planning policy in response to the quake ... yet.

My gut tells me the Chinese govt won't change its position. They take a pretty long view on this issue -- China has too many mouths to feed. I think if people get upset, it will be over the construction of the schools.
Btw, this isn't to say there isn't antipathy to the one-child policy in general. Last year, riots broke out in a town in Guangxi province (in the south) over this. It turned out local officials had been turning a blind eye but suddenly decided to enforce it by increasing the fines on families who had more than one child.

GOOD MORNING!

CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS BEING DONE TO HELP THE PANDAS IN WOLONG AND THE FEW PANDAS THAT YOU HAVE IN CAPTIVITY AND IN THE WILD? CAN YOU TELL ME THEIR CONDITIONS RIGHT NOW?
-GRACE-286920

Well, as I read all your questions, local television here in Chengdu was broadcasting live from Bifengxia, where a handful of the giant pandas from Wolong had just arrived. We've been trying to follow the Wolong pandas' fate ourselves and, in many ways, it's been like trying to uncover a state secret. This is no fault of the Wolong reserve staff; I just think, given the state of the roads and communications in general here, information has been difficult to verify.

As far as we know, all but two of the giant pandas have been recovered from Wolong. Some of them are still in the Wolong area - though not at the reserve itself, but the live broadcast I just saw suggests they're being moved. It's not clear where the cubs have been moved, but they're all rumoured to be safe.

The Wolong reserve staff are keeping a blog in Chinese, and numerous other sites have photos of the pandas' reaction to the quake. They either fled up into the mountains or they climbed up the highest point in the reserve (trees).

One of the difficulties is feeding them. The reserve normally relies on a regular supply of fresh bamboo from outlying areas, and given that the one-lane road -- very dodgy at the best of times -- has been unpassable, the staff have had to feed the pandas rice porridge and grass. So if they are all being moved temporarily, then that's probably a good thing since it means they'll be able to get fresh bamboo!

Dear Ms. Mong: Since much of the devastation is in rural areas, is China letting the international press in to cover the story? Is CNN the only American broadcaster on site? I see stand-ups from HK and Beijing but other than CNN and some British journalists, I don't notice anyone else. Is China blocking coverage?
And thank you for pronouncing Beijing correctly with the hard J.
Jennifer McDevitt
-Jennifer McDevitt

This has been one of the interesting developments -- experiencing relatively free access as a western journalist. The authorities here revised the foreign media regulations last year; effective 1 January 2007 foreign press were no longer required to obtain govt permission to travel anywhere in China. Apart from Tibet and Xinjiang, we can travel throughout the country freely. The generally open climate -- and remember this is relative to what it was before 1 Jan 07 -- meant that foreign journalists had unprecedented access. This changed with the Tibet unrest. The last time I was in Sichuan was in March, and we were stopped in several different places and prevented from travelling into the Tibetan areas within Sichuan. But this again changed with the quake.

We have run into the occasional roadblock, but they have been easy to get around. And a couple of days ago, the Sichuan govt requested that all foreign journalists register with the provincial authorities. It seemed to be a matter of course; in practice we have not been stopped anywhere so long as we have this Sichuan press pass.
There have been plenty of international press -- every major hotel chain in Chengdu has been booked up by them. And so far I have not heard of any coverage being blocked. Many tv broadcasters have brought their own portable satellite dishes, which allow them to beam a live signal or transmit video from pretty much anywhere.

Hello, I've heard a lot of conflicting reports that the Chinese people are being aggressive with the "outside" sources that are coming into help and report on the destruction. Do you know if this is true? If so, do you know why they are reacting this way to people that are trying to help them recover?

Thank you.
-Heather13

Good question, Heather. We have experienced a couple of incidents wherein the local people reacted negatively to our presence. Once we were with our western correspondent and western cameraman so we attracted a great deal of attention, much of it unwanted. The other time it was just me and my Chinese researcher, but when the rescue workers found out we worked for a foreign media organization they became very suspicious.

Both of these incidents came as a result of the fallout from western coverage of the Tibet unrest and torch relay protests. Unfortunately, a small number of western media outlets made some grave errors in their Tibet coverage (eg, mistakenly identifying Nepalese troops beating on Tibetan protesters as PLA soldiers), and this was quickly seized on as an example of western media bias against China. The reaction to the torch relay in Paris and London, followed by the western press coverage about these events, also generated a lot of ill-will amongst many Chinese. So some people here are very sensitive about the way in which they might be portrayed by the foreign press.

Hi!
They say 4.8 million people are homeless. Yet they will be able to house all these people fairly soon. The homeless correspond exactly to the whole population of my country, Norway. I can't imagine how anyone can be able to house so many people quickly. How is this being done? It's not just housing, they need new schools, roads, shops, sewers and water supplies...
-Erik the Read-161455

The Vice Governor of Sichuan today announced that they would try to provide temporary shelter for 98% of the quake survivors who are now homeless. Premier Wen Jiabao has ordered a quarter million of temporary steel homes (like the ones housing construction workers on building sites) to be set up by the end of June. They hope to increase that number to a million within three months. Materials for prefabricated housing are being gathered now to prepare for these temporary homes. (Last year we met a group of local officials from Katrina-affected areas who were looking to buy China-manufactured prefab houses that could be built in a day.)

But you're right, reconstruction is not just about homes. It's about roads, schools, and basic services. Roads will take a while, but they have been able to clear a good number of them. Shops -- well, in the town of Xiang'e up in the hills, I saw lots of little old ladies with tables set out on the side of the road, piles of rubble behind them, and they were selling toilet paper, lighters, packaged biscuits, candies, etc. I don't think enterprising folk will have a problem recovering!

It also looks like they are making progress in restoring power and telecoms. We were impressed with how much coverage our local cell phones were getting in most places. (China Mobile has been especially aggressive -- see http://blogs.wsj.com/chinajournal/2008/05/22/getting-back-on-the-line-in-sichuan/?mod=hpp_europe_blogs)

For a time, the media was putting forward the idea that Beijing was aggressively engaged in relief efforts because "the world was watching" and maybe even to embarrass Bush, by outdoing his performance in the wake of Katrina.

What was the media basing this assertion on?

Could it be that they are just trying to do the right thing for the people? If so, wasn't it a little irresponsible to make baseless assertions like that?
-Gary-286983

Gary, you raise a very good point. For all its faults, the central govt in China is actually quite responsive to natural disasters. (Although there are some people who might argue the authorities didn't respond quite as quickly during the winter storms that swept half of the country over the Chinese New Year.) And, despite its desire to maintain power, the central govt also has to maintain a certain amount credibility with its people and, as a result, is accountable to its people.

But one can't ignore the fact that the quake happened in the wake of Myanmar's cyclone so China's govt officials would have had the opportunity to witness international reaction to how the miltiary junta was handling the relief/rescue situation next door. Plus, they have just been through the whole Tibet situation, which did not leave them in good standing -- either overseas or at home.

Hi Adrienne,
Will you tell us what relief channel we can contribute to that will be the most direct and benefit the victims the quickest.
Thanks.
-C Sun

One of the resources for figuring out where to donate or how to assist directly is to check out a local English language magazine called Chendoo: http://www.chengdoo.com/

They offer some guidance on this.

There is also this website I came across, which has a column on the right-hand side listing what aid organizations are working in the quake-affected areas and what they need:

http://www.china-crossroads.com/

Good Morning:
It was good to see Ian Williams report the other night about American engineers helping families get back in their homes. Some of the engineers are helping folks understand the difference between safe hairline cracks and true structure damage.
Do you see alot of Americans in China helping quake victims?
-Blogger Anna

There are many more than you would expect, considering that Chengdu is home to many Americans working or studying in China. And there are some small NGO-type organizations run by Americans or involving American volunteers who have been active in the recovery efforts. On an official level, the US government has contributed roughly $3 million for relief/rescue efforts, which includes aid cargo, rescue equipment and rescue/recovery expertise.

Our entire little community, Chinese or American, has been trying to help by donating as much as we can during a relief fund-drive organized by all Chinese organizations locally. However, reports, rumors are starting to trickle in thru the Internet about corruption/embezzlemeent of relief fund/supplies. In China, most of the donations will have to go through the official channels to the victims. So, we are gravely concerned where our donations may end up with.
Now, we have to decide on which charity we should send our donations to so that the money will be used most effectively for the earthquake relief.
Chinese embassy?---official
Chinese Redcross Society?---official, too, kinda!
American Red Cross? --- rumor has it that the CEO was/is earning as much as 650,000 in annual salaries!
Canadian Red Cross?
Hongkong Red Cross?

We want a reputable charity that charges little or no overhead, is directly involved with the relief efforts, and is strong enough to demands responsibility and results from the Chinese authorities.
Please, Please Please give us some suggestions!
-Sean-286990

It's smart of you to be wary of embezzlement/corruption; many people here are very concerned about relief funds being misdirected. Many Chinese-language websites have suggested the Red Cross of China. But please also see my response to CSun above.

Can you provide a local map of the areas with the town names affected. To say Chengdu, Sichuan province is akin to saying Houston, Texas. There is no understanding of the distances or locations to the epicenter or damage areas. This information would be published if it were California.
What is the situation at Chengdu airport are incoming flights arriving? what about departing flights. I have read the trains are reserved for emergancy services and outbound flights are fully booked. What about the Chengdu hospitals we hear that many refuges are flooding into the city and hospital services there are full too, meaning only emergancy not elective services are being rendered.
What is being done for housing refugees in Chengdu?
-CS

I have been trying to find this website I came across yesterday that is tracking quake statistics for Sichuan and the surrounding provinces which were affected but am not having much luck, sorry! It had lots of maps.

As far as we know, Chengdu airport is operating as normal. There has been a mad crush to get out over the past few days, owing to growing fears about aftershocks, and outgoing flights have been overbooked Hospitals do not seem overly busy in Chengdu itself. Local stadiums and parks have been turned over to house/shelter some refugees, but by and large it seems that most homeless people are still gathered around the quake zone and not in Chengdu itself.

Since I can't find the website I mentioned, here is another option. The BBC World News site has a good local map with the affected towns higlighted:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7400614.stm

Ms Mong Is it really bad as it is shown on television or is it worse on the ground, and how can I help the people there, such as by sending clothes?
-carmendrivera

It's pretty bad; you can't exaggerate the kind of devastation and loss we have seen here. And there's always this lingering fear there may be many more people suffering in the more remote areas.

We have seen huge banks of donated clothing, but I am sure more is welcome. Please see my response below to CSun about organizations that can use aid.

Adrienne, I am a citizen journalist for Wikinews, a sister site to Wikipedia, as our website is occasionally blocked by Chinese authorities.

I was wondering if you have faced any censorship covering the earthquake, especially since the past months with the whole Tibet situation?

Thanks.
-AutisticPsycho

We have not experienced any censorship covering the quake, but Tibet was an entirely different matter. Not only were we denied access as journalists to any of the Tibetan communities, the reporting we were able to do was blocked on our website, www.msnbc.com, for the first few days.

Oddly enough, after about a week, everything was accessible -- including an uncut interview Ann Curry from the Today show conducted with the Dalai Lama during his visit to the US in March. At the same time, the BBC News website (English language) was unblocked for the first time in years.

Adrienne
The most amazing thing to me is that I've been hearing about the outrage of the people that some buildings collapsed while others, such as government buildings, are still standing. Yesterday, I heard a mother and father accuse the government of "murdering" their children. The reason I'm so surprised is that here in the US we hear that Freedom of Speech is repressed in China. Yet, this sounds like the very kind of freedom of speech we allow in the US. Do you think the Chinese government is being more tolerant of the mourning people during this tragedy, or this really more like the average freedom the Chinese people have? Will this type of freedom of speech, being covered so widely by the worldwide media have repercussions for these people eventually, or do you think this is going to be the basis for more freedom of expression for the Chinese people?
-Mickie

Mickie, I'm glad you asked this question. Without a doubt, the Chinese govt is not a fan of freedom of speech, but (1) China is a big country and there are many voices, too many to clamp down, especially with the spread of technology; and (2) the central govt is accountable to its people on a certain level, eg, in order to stay in power, the leadership has to maintain some credibility with its people. [There are many articulate, better-informed specialists than I who will tell you that one of the reasons the leadership chose this path of economic development (socialism with Chinese characteristics) is because they realized they had to make a trade-off with the people: economic freedoms in exchange for political freedoms.]

There is room for people to voice criticism, but as always it depends on who and what is being criticized. So there may be repercussions, but in this case with the poor quality of construction and so many deaths of a single generation, the leadership doesn't have much wriggle room.

------- Original Article --------

The death toll from last week's powerful earthquake has jumped to more than 51,000 -- a loss of individual lives that's nearly impossible to fathom. In her reporting from Sichuan Province, Adrienne Mong has brought some of the initial chaos into clearer focus, telling stories of both despair and hope.

On Friday, May 23, starting at 10:00 a.m. ET, Adrienne will be available to answer Newsviners questions about her experiences covering the earthquake. Feel free to post your questions here in advance.