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April 22, 2010

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Warm hearts, helping hands

EXHAUSTED with fever, his lips parched, Gao Shuyou continues to volunteer in quake relief in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Visiting the area as tourist when the quake hit, Gao has been helping for five days straight.

"I had a fever last night and got an intravenous drip," says Gao who has slept under the stars for three freezing nights before getting a tent on Saturday.

"At first I wanted to get out of here, but I just could not leave those in need," says Gao who was born in northeast China's Jilin Province and now works in Macau.

Gao and his friend Chen Yunfei went to Gyegu Town in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu on a sightseeing tour on April 13, a tour they never thought would be so life-altering.

"When the earthquake struck on Wednesday (April 14), we ran out of our hotel into the dusty streets as houses collapsed, people were yelling, dogs barking," Gao recalls.

Feeling fortunate to be alive, Gao and Chen climbed onto collapsed houses and dug with their bare hands in search of the buried.

Many locals were Tibetan and "although I don't speak their language, their eyes showed how grateful they were for our help," says Gao.

Gao and Chen first pulled a couple out of the debris, but they did not survive. Then they dug out a mother and her baby, both of the Hui ethnic group.

"The baby survived but the mother died. We tried artificial respiration but she still didn't make it. It felt so bad seeing people die," Gao says.

Feeling what they could do on their own was limited, Gao and Chen approached the Yushu Prefecture Committee of Chinese Communist Youth League and officially enrolled as volunteers.

Now Gao works to recruit and organize other volunteers. "As of Sunday morning, about 400 volunteers had joined us coming from all over China," Gao says.

"You can tell volunteers by the red strips pinned to their clothes or tied around their arms. Volunteers do whatever is needed, such as searching for survivors, transporting the injured and collecting garbage," says Gao.

Since all the stores and restaurants are closed because of the quake, Gao has had nothing to eat but ship biscuits, instant noodles and bottled water.

After toiling for five days without proper food and rest, Gao feels weak but continues to help. "I was lucky that I survived and now it's time for me to give something back by helping those in need," he says.

A 7.1-magnitude quake struck the Yushu Prefecture on April 14. More than 2,000 people were killed, and more than 12,130 others were injured, rescue headquarters report.

Made of wood and mud, most houses in the area collapsed or were on the verge of collapse after the quake.

Tens of thousands of people need to be relocated. Thousands of soldiers and officers, armed police, medical workers and other trained rescuers have been working in the quake zone.


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