Beijing: A tiny tobacco pouch tied to the hand of an elderly man saved the lives of nearly 800 people in a remote Chinese village when a powerful earthquake struck Sichuan province last week, killing about 200 people.
The incident took place in Fujiaying village in Longmen township, just five km from Lushan county, the epicentre of the 7.0 magnitude quake on Saturday.
The 68-year-old Li Xianhe has being hailed as the saviour of Fujiaying after he pulled out this miracle, all thanks to his humble tobacco pouch. Li carries the pouch everywhere he goes, securing it to his wrist by a piece of string when he lies down to sleep.
Just before the quake struck, Li was woken by the violent rocking of the tobacco pouch hanging from his arm. "It's really weird, you know? I experienced the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 and my instincts told me just one thing - earthquake. I yelled out 'earthquake, earthquake' and rushed my family out of the house immediately," he told state-run China Daily on Thursday.
Rather than trying to re-enter their house and collect valuables, Li and his family rushed along the village road and shouted to their neighbours, warning them of the impending disaster. "Run! Quickly! Leave everything behind and run!" yelled Li in the hope his voice would alert those still indoors. As his cries rang out, many villagers ran from their homes and joined him in the road.
Fearing a large number of injuries in the village, Li and the other residents went from door to door, calling out and checking to see if anyone was trapped inside. Li let out a long sigh of relief when every one of the more than 800 villagers gathered outside unscathed.
"Thank goodness, we were all alive and fine," said Li, his voice still hoarse a few days after the disaster. Li served as a village Communist Party chief for three decades and helped villagers organise the cleanup operation in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.
Over 90,000 were either killed or went missing in the 2008 quake. This time, Li led a group to assess the damage to the buildings. In the short gaps between aftershocks, they rescued a few basic goods, such as grain, water, pans, blankets and boards from the few houses they identified as still being stable. The villagers have hastily erected several temporary shelters to provide a living space for the elderly and children.
So far 196 people have been declared dead and 21 missing in the quake. 12200 were injured, many of them seriously, while over 76000 houses were damaged. 4,228 aftershocks have been recorded so far.
People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China has deployed a KJ-200 early warning plane to give directions to helicopters flying relief goods to mountainous quake-hit areas in Sichuan Province.
A total of 18,000 soldiers and officers from China's military and armed police forces and members of paramilitary reserve forces have been sent to the quake affected areas, along with a number of helicopters.
However, PLA pilots are facing difficulty in manoeuvring along mountains and valleys due to rainy conditions. The KJ-200 had operated for over five hours and succeeded in guiding 22 groups of aerial vehicle in delivery of rescue goods, including daily essentials like food, tents and bottled water.