Two-time survivor can't stop smiling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 April, 2010, 12:00am

Surviving an earthquake once is enough luck for some, but Li Yongjuan has now done it twice - first in Wenchuan town, Sichuan, in 2008, then in Yushu, Qinghai, on Wednesday.

She has bruises on her feet, incurred during her escape from Yushu's Sanjiangyuan Hotel. 'I ran barefoot, no time to put on shoes,' Li, 24, said from her hospital bed in Xining . Another bruise, on her left arm, was caused when she was knocked down by men on her way out.

Compared with 2008, the injuries were more severe. During that quake, which killed nearly 88,000 people, only her right foot was bruised.

Li said the main reason she had the strength to survive last week was her Wenchuan experience. She was in her last year of college in 2008 and was chatting and laughing with friends on the sixth floor of an office building in Mianyang, near the epicentre, when the computers on the desks started to shake.

''Earthquake!' people shouted. They rushed out of the rooms and scrambled down the stairs,' Li said. 'The building was shaking and I couldn't hold the stairway banister, which was shaking, too. Then I was knocked down from behind by the men on the third floor.'

Li fell at the edge of a lift shaft under construction and watched people rushing past without even glancing at her, a girl screaming for help.

'I was crying after being pushed down. I was so scared, the bricks and other stuff kept falling and I thought I was going to die. I couldn't stand up by myself, because I was so weak, but nobody stopped and gave me a hand, even the people who knew me.'

The experience caused Li, now an auditor with an accountancy firm based in Xining , to realise the strength of the survival instinct hidden deep in people's hearts. It also taught her that at the moment of life or death, no one can help you but yourself. 'At that brief moment, I found out how strong the human desire to live was,' she said.

So when the Yushu quake struck, Li and her boyfriend understood nobody should be blamed for their behaviour in the chaos, as people were just following their instincts.

Li, who was on a business trip to Yushu with four colleagues, said she was frightened on Wednesday when she opened the door to the staircase, but this time she did not scream, cry or wait for help. Wenchuan had given her presence of mind and maturity.

'When I was knocked down by those men in the hotel corridor last week, I just stood up by myself because I knew I could only count on me this time,' Li said, smiling.

The company car took Li and three other injured colleagues to hospital in Xining on Thursday. Her colleagues suggested she might need some psychological counselling, but she said she was strong enough.

Wang Jinxue , Li's boyfriend, who was in Xining when the quake struck, joined her at hospital. As he listened to Li tell her story, he interrupted with a touch of cynicism.

'What you want to report about this, that people united to save each other? No, no, not at that moment,' he said, adding he believed people generally would try to save others only if they had saved themselves.

He said he knew of a couple during the Wenchuan earthquake, and the husband had rushed out of the building without his wife. Though he soon realised his wife was not with him and returned to pick her up, the wife divorced him.

During the interview, a nurse came by and asked Li and Wang to clean up the things brought by friends and colleagues that had collected under the bed - several bags of fruit, other food and gifts. There was even a camp bed that Wang used at night while staying with Li.

'You guys have too much stuff here,' the nurse scolded.

Despite the terror of the second earthquake experience, Li managed to smile as she related her story, prompting Wang to say: 'Your smile is a little too sweet. You don't look like a person who twice escaped from disaster areas.'

Li admitted he was right, saying a person who survived two quakes might have used up her quota of luck. Then she smiled again.