As the chances of recovering survivors from under the debris in quake-hit Sichuan province narrow, migrant workers in Beijing are increasingly fearful about their relatives.
Relatives identify the victims of the earthquake, which struck Sichuan on Monday
Dozens of migrant workers are constructing a new building for the Chinese military in the west of Beijing. Wu Shang Xi is a mason and his wife is a cook for the on-site builders. Mr and Mrs Wu live in a tent on the building site. In February, they left their home in Sichuan province and came looking for work in Beijing.
They wanted to save up to pay for their children’s education and left their children with relatives in the city of Mianyang, a city which was badly hit by the earthquake:
“I can’t reach my children by telephone,” complains Mr Wu. “I’ve had no contact with them. My biggest wish is to get money and go home. The more I hear, the worse I feel.”
Little access to information
Mr Wu adds he doesn’t have enough money to go home. In total, the Wus earn the equivalent of about 100 euros a month. They have two cots in their tent and some crockery only. There isn’t a television.
Every night since the earthquake struck their hometown, they have scoured the streets of Beijing, trying to catch a glimpse of television footage. They can’t afford to go into the fashionable bars and restaurants, which have televisions, so they watch what they can through the windows.
This is their only way of discovering what happened, how many victims there are, which places have been especially affected. Mrs Wu is desperate that this is their only option: “Phone calls aren’t getting through to our homes. Here, the public telephones are full of people trying to reach their families. They all have tears in their eyes.”
Rescuing trapped people
About 100,000 people are missing in the quake-hit region. Rescue workers have been struggling to access devastated villages and towns. Roads are ravaged, railway tunnels have collapsed. There is rubble everywhere.
People have been using their bare hands to clear debris and rescue people trapped under buildings. Mr Xu is also from the quake region. He has been working as a builder in Beijing for just a few months.
Tears well up in his eyes as he describes how his five-year-old nephew spent a whole night trapped under his house: “He’s now in hospital in Mianyang. Last night, my sister called me. She was crying and she couldn’t tell me exactly what had happened. Our house collapsed but my sister and my nephew were rescued.”
But as the days goes by, the chances of rescue for the thousands and thousands of people trapped in debris are becoming increasingly slim. The worries of the Wus, Mr Xu and hundreds of migrant workers in Beijing are far from over.