The 7.9 magnitude earthquake centered in southwestern China killed and injured thousands, and left hundreds of thousands homeless throughout the region. Among those stranded in the temblor’s wake were hundreds of Americans living in and visiting the area. The American Embassy in Beijing and the American Consulate General in Chengdu (50 miles from the epicenter) sprang into action immediately to protect and aid American citizens caught in the earthquake’s destruction, and reassure worried family members in the U.S. that their loved ones were safe.
As news of the temblor spread back to the United States, the Department, the Embassy and Consulate General Chengdu fielded phone calls from friends and family of travelers known to be in China. Posts, with help from the Department, reviewed the records of Americans who had registered their trips to the region. With this valuable information about who they were looking for, our officers in China set out to bring our citizens to safety.
Our rescue teams traveled far into affected areas, but dangerous travel conditions kept them from reaching the epicenter. Despite the dangers, and loss of power and communications throughout the area, the teams located all known Americans in the region, all safe and sound except for one who reported a minor injury. In the effort to find one of the last missing Americans, who was stranded in mountains near the epicenter, consular staff worked tirelessly with Chinese authorities. They were unable even to contact him until the American called consulate authorities on a satellite phone that the Chinese government included in relief supplies that they airlifted to the isolated region. By phone, the American assured our consular team that he was all right and could safely remain until helicopters could evacuate him.
Along the way the consular teams helped Chinese refugees whom they encountered, sowing goodwill through humanitarian assistance at a grassroots level. During a rest break near Mianyang, the team came across Chinese refugees whose farming village had been destroyed. To tide them over until relief supplies reached them, team members left the villagers cases of water and gave them money from their pockets.
Read more about earthquake relief efforts for China.