Steve's China Blog

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earthquake in ChengDu

At about 2:30pm yesterday we had a 7.9 earthquake which had it's epicenter about 55 miles to the northwest. I was at the office on the 8th floor working at my desk when it struck. At first I just thought it was an aftershock from some explosions at some nearby construction, which I had experienced before in Dalian, but those usually only last a few seconds. After about 15 or 20 seconds everyone realized that it was an earthquake and most people started heading for the stairway down to the ground level. We were on the top floor of the office building and it was swaying and really shaking hard. A few people dived under their desks, but realizing that everyone was leaving they got up and started down the stairs too.

Shamelessly stolen from an AP news story

Initially I got up from my desk and went over to stand under a doorway thinking that it might be over quickly, but after about a half a minute I decided to head down too. I went back to my desk and locked my computer and then headed to the stairs, checking to make sure everyone was out of the 8th floor. As I started to get near the stairway I was thinking that I should go back to my desk to get my camera, but then I noticed that the ceiling tiles were starting to crack and fall apart and that there were huge cracks in the walls of the stairwell, and I decided to hell with the camera. Time to go!

Cracks in the concrete of the office building

There was a security guard coming up the stairs yelling for everyone to get out, and I told them there was no more people on the 8th floor. The guards had to check all this and this guy looked really terrified. The stairwell was full of people, most very frightened, but there was no panic. The earthquake lasted about 3 minutes, and since I was one of the last people going down the stairs it ended about the time I reached the 2nd or 3rd floor.The company had an emergency plan in place, and most people knew it... get down the stairs quickly, get away from the building, and meet at a designated area. We got everyone out of the office ok with no injuries.

For about the next 3 or 4 hours we stayed out in the area outside the office building waiting for news. Most people had their cell phones (I didn't) and they were busy trying to call, or send text messages, to friends and family to let them know they were alright. I tried to call my driver a few times using other people's phones, but I couldn't get through. Someone brought a bunch of bottles of water, but there wasn't enough for everyone. The people who ran the little convenience store locked up the stored and high-tailed it out of there as soon as the shaking started. Bloody cowards.

At about 5:30pm some people from the software park brought over about 10 hard-hats, and the managers took those and went in to check out the office to see if it was at least safe enough for people to go get their belongings. There were reports of a lot of aftershocks, but I didn't feel any while outside the building. The managers came down and we started letting people go in and get their things, but you had to wear a hard-hat, so only about 10 people at a time were in the building. That was good... I just imagined if hundreds of people went in there and were stomping up and down the stairs the whole building might collapse.

I got my chance to go upstairs at about 6:15pm. The place was a real mess with debris all over the floors and cracks in the concrete here and there, but the place looked ok considering how much shaking had gone on earlier. No broken furniture and the roofs didn't collapse any. When I got to my desk I saw that there over a dozen messages from people (customers and team members in China, India, and Australia). We never had a chance to tell them what was happening when we left hours earlier. I only took time to send an instant message to my parents that I was ok, and a quick message to one of my customers in India who was still online, "Earthquake. Got to go".

After that I shutdown my laptop and threw it in my bag, grabbed my phone and camera, and started to head out. Right then my driver called and I told him I would be downstairs in a few minutes. I met up with Kwai Ling, who had just gotten her stuff, and we started down the stairs. I got a few pictures of the cracks in the walls, and then hurried down to let others have a chance to go get their things.

Kwai Ling heads back down after getting her things

I got home quicker than I thought I would. Traffic was suppose to be pretty bad downtown since they had a major water pipe break somewhere. We avoided that and took mostly side-streets that weren't too crowded. It looked like most of the stores and restaurants were open, which was a good sign. There were people everywhere! It turns out that most people here were worried about the aftershocks and they avoided their homes and stayed out in open areas.

Part of the drive home

When I got home I was expecting to find a lot of my things broken and tossed about, but nothing was damaged. A few things had moved around a little, but it didn't look bad. My electricity was still on, as well as my internet connection. My water was going, but there was very little water pressure (probably because of the break in the water pipe), and the gas had been turned off.

I decided to logon and let people know that I was safe and at home. I sent out some emails and chatted with others. I didn't really feel any aftershocks until about 9:45pm. At that point I decided to pack up a bunch of things in case I needed to head out quickly, and then try to get some sleep. I went to sleep on the couch dressed, and I setup everything that I wanted to take with me lined up toward the door, so that I would not have to stop to pick things up, and since I live on the 3rd floor I figured I could get out pretty fast.

There were a few small aftershocks during the night that woke me up, and a few big ones at around 2:00am, 4:00am, and 6:30am. The 4:00am must have had a lot of smaller ones before because the security guards here came and woke the few of us in the building and asked that we go downstairs. I went down to the lobby and ran into someone named Ken who is from New York who has just opened a plant here. We sat and chatted until about 5:30am, and then I went back upstairs to try and get some sleep.

After the 6:30am aftershock I just decided to get up and get on with the day. That's when I noticed a huge crack in the wall of my dining room.

Huge crack in my dining room wall. 10 feet across and then from ceiling to floor

I don't know if that was caused by the initial earthquake or all of the aftershocks, because I do not remember seeing it when I got home last night. It might have been a combination of all of them. The last aftershock I felt today was at around 7:40am. Nothing since then, so I hope we wont have anymore. I still have all of my stuff ready to go in case I have to get out fast.

People waiting outside

A few minutes ago I went for a walk outside. There are still a lot of people outside avoiding going home, even though it's raining now. Most people are sitting around on the wet grass. Some are parked in their cars all the way down the road. My guess is they'll stay there until someone from the government tells them its ok to go home.


  • Glad to hear that you are okay. When I heard the earthquake center was only 55 miles away from Chengdu, you and a few other bloggers in the area came to mind.

    I've never been in an earthquake, besides the simulated one at a theme park, and I don't ever want to be.

    By Blogger Gabby Girl, at 9:21 PM  

  • Glad you're OK buddy!

    By Blogger Lex Luethor, at 8:36 AM  

  • Glad you're OK. That's a wicked looking crack in your wall. Is it plaster or cement?

    I still think that this would be a perfect time for you to stand out on the street corner with a 6' tall cross made of 4x4s and convert the masses. Greg and I can ship you the lumber.

    Lynne wanted to know about the pandas.

    By Anonymous Les, at 4:09 AM  

  • Yeah, my only experience with earthquakes is the hollywood variety, so this didn't seem as bad.

    As far as I know, the pandas are ok.

    By Blogger Steve Harms, at 10:20 AM  

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