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FOR many in Tangshan, a city leveled by an earthquake 40 years ago, the memories of the disaster are still vivid.|
In the early hours of July 28, 1976, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the city in north China’s Hebei Province, killing over 242,000 people. About 7,200 families died in their sleep.
Li Shengtang, 81, was a dispatcher at the city’s airport. In the 15 days following the earthquake, Li and his four colleagues dispatched over 3,000 flights to carry the injured to hospitals outside the city.
On the peak day, they dispatched 352 flights.
“Since then, the quake has been a part of my life,” he said. After retiring from military service in 1982, he worked as head of the notary office in the justice bureau of Tangshan.
“A great part of my job was to deal with property inheritance cases left over after the earthquake,” he said.
In the 20 years since Li retired from the bureau, he has visited schools and public institutions to talk about his experiences and the unyielding spirit of Tangshan’s people after the quake.
“The spirit we have shown in fighting the disaster and rebuilding homes is so precious and should be carried on for generations,” he said.
Last month, Tangshan resident Sun Hu got in touch with Dr Zhou Juanhua, who delivered her 40 years ago amid the quake debris. The two made contact thanks to an online campaign by netizens and local media to reunite them.
Forty years ago, Zhou was part of a rescue team organized by a Shanghai hospital. On August 4, 1976, Sun’s mother had just been pulled from the debris and was feeling labor pains.
Zhou recalled that the delivery took place in a tent without water or power supply. The doctors and nurses covered the muddy ground with newspapers and plastic cloth for Sun’s mother to lie on. Zhou kneeled on the ground for seven hours to deliver the baby.
“Since I was a child, my mother often told me that my birth was not easy. She asked me to be always grateful to Dr Zhou and the medical team from Shanghai. My mother and I both owe our lives to them,” she said.
Sun promised Zhou over the phone that she will take her son to visit her in Shanghai soon.
Another earthquake survivor, Wang Ying, 68, has recorded her life story in an autobiography titled “My Account.”
Wang was an excellent student, but she was unable to attend university after finishing secondary school in 1966. The year marked the beginning of the decade-long “cultural revolution,” and the national college entrance exam was suspended. Instead, she got a job teaching physical education classes at a middle school in Tangshan.
Wang suffered injuries in the earthquake that left her permanently confined to a wheelchair. By the time the college entrance exam resumed in 1977, Wang was unable to continue her education due to her disability. Later, she experienced phantom limb pain, which is common in paraplegics. The pain was so severe that she had to take large amounts of painkillers daily.
In 2006, she had surgery on her legs to end her pain.
In her book, Wang writes that she had been given three “births:” the first as a baby, a second by the rescuers who saved her from the earthquake, and the third by the doctors who relieved her pain.
“My life does not only belong to myself. It carries so much care and love. Being so blessed, I have no reason not to cherish my life,” she wrote.