By Zhang Xiaohui
Published: 2008-06-06

From Nation, page 11 , Issue 370 on June 2, 2008
Translated by Ren Yujie
Original article:

Chengdu resident Wang Zhi came up with an ingenious method to deal with aftershocks: He turned an empty beer bottle upside-down and put it at the edge of a table, with a basin underneath. At night, if Wang and his family members heard the clank of the fallen bottle, they would evacuate the house.

Wang's method spread quickly. Netizens posted it online and hailed it as more useful than forecasts from the seismological bureau.

On May 21, Hu Ke, who works on the 24th floor of a Chengdu office building, asked for a one-month leave. She told the EO that she was afraid to stay in high buildings after experiencing the quake's fierce aftershocks. Once she sat down in her 24th floor office, she became nervous and distracted. She felt the building was shaking at any given moment.

Such sensations began on May 19 and continued for two days, said Hu. On the third day, she could not bear it any more and asked for a leave, she added.

Zhang Chuanwu, a villager in Gongxing Town, Mianzhu County, experienced an even more extreme response. Speaking with the EO in Chengdu's Qingyang Stadium, he said: "Up to now I am still afraid of walking near high buildings. When I raise my head, I feel the building falling down on me. When I take a bath, I think of where to hide myself if a quake strikes. When enter an closed building, I think about how to escape.” Zhang admits that he has sunk into hypochondria after the quake."

The massive 8-magnitude Wenchuan quake on May 12 was felt in Chengdu, causing many citizens to hallucinate that the earth was shaking thereafter. Many said that as long as they sat down they felt the ground was moving, despite that no quake was actually occurring.

Rumors of Water Shortage
On the morning of May 14, a rumor that water supplies in Chengdu and Dujiangyan were about to be interrupted began to spread.

The rumor arose from news that Chengdu Municipal Waterworks was carrying out an overhaul of water supply pipes in partial regions of the city. Some residents related the temporary suspension of water supplies to the earthquake and began to guess at whether the water quality up-stream was polluted or not. They also associated it with chemical plants in Dujiangyan and Pengzhou that were damaged by the quake.

Citizens began to store water. From 11 a.m., water consumption in Chengdu sharply increased to 83,498 cubic meters per hour, which was 30 percent more than usual and beyond the water supply capability of Chengdu Municipal Waterworks

Shortly thereafter, the city's water pressure began to decline suddenly. By 12:30am, the figure had declined to 0.102Mpa from the normal 0.28Mpa, lower than national regulation of 0.16Mpa. As a result, water could not reach users on the third floor.

The rumor suddenly became a reality. Water supply was temporarily suspended. Chengdu Municipal Waterworks was unable to refute the rumor and mistrust swept the city.

Citizens flocked into markets and began hoarding mineral water.

Seeing the pressure approach 0.1Mpa, workers of Chengdu Municipal Waterworks worried the burst of water delivery network would lead to more serious water supply accident.

At that time, in order to assure water supply, water plants were at the limits of their production capability. With reservoir water levels low, mud and sediments were at risk of being stirred up, thus polluting the water. Citizens of Chengdu had also begun driving out of the city.

At last, Chengdu Municipal Waterworks turned to the government. After the Sichuan Environment Protection Agency rushed an assessment of the water quality upstream, Chengdu TV stations began to refute the rumor and inform the public that the water was safe. Such urgent notices were broadcasted every ten minutes and on rolling on-screen marquees. Broadcasting station and official websites also release notices refuting the rumor.

As a result, panicked water hoarding began to ease. The pressure of the city's water delivery network finally recovered at 3 p.m. on May 14.

That evening, Li Chengyun, vice-governor of Sichan Province, said water from Dujianyan had not been polluted and that there was no news about chemical leakage or plant explosions.

Forecast Caused Chaos
The following new was not a rumor, but it caused the chaos more serious than a rumor.

Chongqing Municipal Government released a note from China Earthquake Administration in the evening of May 19, stating that a six to seven magnitude aftershock might hit Wenchuan on May 19 or 20 and required local governments to prepare.

The news was spread on TV in Chongqing. Chengdu TV and Sichuan TV also interrupted broadcasts to give the aftershock prediction airplay.

Upon hearing the news, crowds of Chengdu citizens went outside to roads, parks and riverbanks in a short time. They set up places to sleep in tents and cars. Telecom communications similar to ones that occurred during the earthquake reemerged.

In Chongqing, students were transferred to playgrounds. Some parents even took their children out of schools and drove to what they considered to be safer ground.

But for the Chengdu residents sleeping in the empty public square, rest did not come easy. The aftershock forecast had jolted Chengdu and Chongqing citizens' anxiety levels.

As one Chengdu resident put it: Aftershocks had significantly interrupted their lives, and if it continued to do so, nervous breakdowns would only become more and more common.