By Zhang Xiangdong, Zhang Yanlong
Published: 2008-05-21

The aftershock on the night of May 19 had a relatively small impact on Wenchuan.

After the disaster relief center forecasted a potential 6 to 7-magnitude aftershock, people living in endangered buildings and tents by the mountain base withdrew to more open areas under the organization of relief workers. As a result of timely counter-measure, further casualties were avoided.

This reporter spent the night on an empty ground, about half the size of a football field, opposite the disaster relief center near the Ling River.

The aftershock lasted for about ten seconds. Having already been through many aftershocks, locals stayed calm. Landslides frequently occurred on the other side of the river at night.

Meanwhile, word had spread on the internet, purportedly based on earthquake statistics and a map generated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), saying that after numerous strong and mild aftershocks, the force fuelling the earthquake in Wenchuan had basically run out, and that the earthquake movement was heading northeast towards Gansu, an adjacent province to Sichuan.

Word of such predictions, which were denied by officials from China's State Earthquake Administration, had been circulated among the public in Gansu and even nearby Shaanxi province for days.

Chinese officials maintained that based on data collected, the cracks resulted from the earthquake appeared in Wenchuan and stretched northeast towards Beichuan, however that did not mean that the earthquake was moving northeast.

An expert from the USGS had also responded to query from the Beijing News, telling the daily that the purportedly "prediction statistics and map" were records of the locations of aftershocks that happened in recent days, not a prediction of the movement of earthquake source.

In Gansu's Wenxian, which had been officially warned of staying alert and prepared for aftershock ranging between 6 and 6.5-magnitude in Sichuan, many neccesities like food, medicine, tents and blankets were in short supply.

An NGO volunteer involved in the rescue efforts in Wenxian told the reporter that the frequently blocked roads had added to the short supplies due to inconsistency in transportation channels.

"Some of the newly-cleared roads have been blocked by aftershocks again, and the rain has continued for three days, further complicating transportation," said the above volunteer, adding in most villages, four or five families had to share one tent.

Wenxian was one of the badly hit areas in Gansu province when the 8-magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan on May 12. Wenxian is about 200km away from the epicenter, Wenchuan.

On May 18, the 6-magnitude aftershock in Jiangyou, Sichuan had caused more collapses of the already damaged buildings in Wenxian. According to Wenxian disaster relief center, additional collapses were discovered in all the 20 towns of the county, among which Liping, Sheshu, and Koutouba had lost communication with the outside.

Statistics from Gansu showed that up to the morning of May 17, the death toll in the province was 364, of which 330 deaths occurred in Longnan municipality, which Wenxian belongs to. In Wenxian alone, 93 deaths were recorded.

After the earthquake, Wenxian had thus far encountered over 2,200 landslides. In addition, over 200 irrigation projects were affected and over 600 places were regarded as too dangerous for habitation.