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Volunteers work on as their tragedy unfolds

YANG Yaoci, 20, looks like any other student volunteer at the World Expo as he guides visitors outside the China Pavilion.

But Yang had just lost seven relatives back in his hometown, Zhouqu County of northwest China's Gansu Province, which was hit by a massive landslide last Sunday, leaving at least 1,239 people dead and 505 missing.

Yang, an ethnic Tibetan and a junior student, started working at the Expo site with 1,160 other volunteers from the Shanghai Institute of Electric Power the day after the disaster.

"I was almost blown away when I heard the news on TV after returning to my school dorm," Yang said.

He called home immediately, and his father told him his mother and little brother were safe, but seven relatives, including his aunt and cousin, were missing.

"I wanted to go home and help with the rescue work, but my father told me there was nothing I could do. Dead people cannot be revived. I'll have to do work at the Expo and trust the rescuers to save my home," Yang said.

But during lunch break, his grief surfaces when he recalls the cousin he grew up with.

Buried alive

"A landslide is worse than an earthquake. There is a chance of survival in the crevices of rubble in an earthquake. But being buried alive by mud is another story."

Yang and his family survived the May 12 earthquake in 2008. Many buildings in Zhouqu were newly reconstructed with the aid of south China's Shenzhen City. Many of those buildings now lie half buried in mud.

Yan Yiming, 20, a student volunteer from Shanghai Jiao Tong University at the Expo press center, printed stickers with "May Heaven Bless Zhouqu" in Chinese characters and a picture she took of the city in the background.

Below the picture she detailed donation methods. During breaks, Yan gives the stickers to other volunteers so they can wear them and spread the message.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it on TV," said Yan, who had just returned from a volunteer teaching program in Zhouqu. "I saw the restaurant I used to eat at with my friends and students buried in mud."

Yan was enjoying a day off from the Expo in her dorm last Sunday when she heard the news at around 10am. She burst into tears and immediately called Liang Liang, a 15-year-old student she had taught in Zhouqu No. 1 Primary Middle School in July.


Liang Liang told her the families of his two uncles were missing. "Another rainstorm is coming, I'm a little afraid and can't sleep," Liang Liang wrote in a text message.

Volunteers from different universities who had been in Zhouqu on the same teaching program are exchanging information online.

"I feel immense relief and happiness each time I learn a student is out of danger," Yan said. Five of her six students, all ethnic Tibetans, have been found. One girl remains out of touch.

"I can't imagine what could have happened to her," Yan said as she looked at the girl's picture. She had heard enough tragedies from other volunteers - some of their students were dead, some had lost parents, friends or relatives.

"Many visitors at the Expo don't know about the tragedy. Even if they do, most of them don't have such strong emotions as I do. I just want to tell more people Zhouqu is in need," Yan said.

On Thursday, the Expo's Gansu Pavilion suspended its entertainment activities and sent its performers home, a pavilion spokesman surnamed Wang said.

"Some visitors have come to the pavilion to donate, but it is improper for us to accept their money," Wang said. He encouraged donations to the Red Cross Society of China.


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