EARTHQUAKE
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Sichuan earthquake

Hong Kong volunteers head for Sichuan quake zone to provide counselling

Counsellors from city see messages from victims of massive 2008 quake saying latest incident has reopened their psychological wounds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 August, 2017, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 August, 2017, 10:27am

A team of Hong Kong counselling professionals and mainland volunteers they trained will head to the Sichuan earthquake zone to offer help after they saw messages from survivors of the deadly 2008 quake saying the latest disaster had reopened their psychological wounds.

The latest magnitude 7 earthquake, which shook the popular Jiuzhaigou National Park on Tuesday night, has claimed at least 19 lives and injured 247 others. All Hongkongers who went missing have been found, according to the city’s Immigration Department.

More than 20 Hong Kong tours comprising about 400 participants have been cancelled in the coming three weeks due to safety concerns, according to the Travel Industry Council.

Post Crisis Counselling Network, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organisation, has mobilised about 10 volunteers it trained in Sichuan to offer help to victims in the affected areas. It was established in the aftermath of the 2008 quake to offer psychological help to survivers and train local counsellors.

At least four professional psychotherapists from the city equipped with the latest medical instruments will also head to the affected areas as early as Saturday to treat traumatised victims.

“The earthquake in Jiuzhaigou could trigger post-traumatic stress disorders in survivors of previous earthquakes,” said Timothy To Wing-ching, the organisation’s executive director.

To said he saw many online messages from former victims saying they could not sleep or dreamed of the devastation in the 2008 quake, which killed more than 80,000 people.

“In addition to providing material assistance, Hong Kong people should also pay more attention to the psychological well-being of the victims...[By offering psychological counselling], we will be able to reduce future social problems caused by mental health issues,” he said.

The Hong Kong professionals including To will evaluate the situation and mobilise the 516 local counsellors they trained in Sichuan.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Department said it had received requests for help or inquiries from 39 Hongkongers or their families, all of whom have since been confirmed safe. Two initially could not be reached, but both were later contacted.

Watch: aerial view of quake-hit southwest China

About 80 Hong Kong travellers with Wing On Travel, Sunflower Travel and Hong Thai Travel Services are currently touring Sichuan, with all confirmed safe.

Jiuzhaigou is one of the most popular mainland attractions among Hong Kong tourists during the summer months thanks to its cool climate. Major Hong Kong travel agencies arrange tours there every week, with Hong Thai sending more than 1,000 Hongkongers every year.

Johnny So, general manager of Sunflower Travel Service, said a group of 21 Hong Kong tourists were staying at the Sheraton Resort in Jiuzhaigou when the earthquake struck. All went to outdoor areas and were on their way to Chengdu on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Peace Chiu