A tale of survival
An eyewitness tells Wong Yat-hei about the kindness of strangers and the hardships involved in her 'return from the epicentre'
Poon Siu-man and her elder sister were among the few unlucky Hongkongers to experience the horrific Sichuan earthquake. On May 12 last year, at 2.28pm, a quake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale rocked the province, leaving 88,000 dead or missing and more than 5 million homeless.
It was the strongest earthquake to strike the mainland in more than three decades. .
Poon, a veteran reporter, has written a book about her Sichuan experience that was published in November last year with the support of donors and sponsorship from a printing company. Profits from the 216-page Return from the Epicentre will go to Hong Kong Red Cross Sichuan earthquake relief projects.
Poon says she is grateful that, despite the financial crisis, more than 200 people donated money to ensure the book got published.
'Some donated a few hundred dollars, some a few thousand,' she says, adding that without their support the project would not have got off the ground.
The Poon sisters have been doing voluntary work in Hong Kong and on the mainland for years. Just before the earthquake struck, they had been giving out household goods to underprivileged families in Sichuan.
'We finished what we had to do a little bit early and stayed on to do some sightseeing,' says Poon. 'My sister and I were staying at a temple and at the time of the earthquake I was taking a nap and my sister was helping the temple workers sweep the floors. I felt the building shaking and I was flung to the floor from my bed. Then the wardrobe collapsed and the shape of the door was distorted.'
Describing the force of the quake as 'unbelievable', Poon says she ran outdoors to find her sister, who turned out to be seriously injured with a deep gash to her head.
The sisters were transported to a nearby school where they waited to be taken to the nearest hospital. At the school, Poon says she met a local couple, and despite the communication problems, they did everything they could to help her, organising transport to the hospital.
But at the hospital, however, Poon received devastating news.
'The medical staff said my sister had a very slim chance of survival so they would rather not save her. There were many others who had a greater chance of survival and they had to take care of those who were more likely to survive. I kept hugging my sister and refusing to leave, until, luckily, some Hong Kong officials arrived and persuaded the hospital staff to save my sister. If that had not happened, I think my sister would be dead for sure.'
Now safe in Hong Kong, the sisters say they will never forget the people of Sichuan, and last August they collected two containers of winter clothing to send there and help homeless people make it through the bitter cold of winter.
'Life is precious and, as long as I am alive and capable, I will do everything I can to help those in need,' says Poon.