As Burma and China come to grips with their natural disasters, eyewitnesses accounts across the internet are painting uncomfortable pictures to for the wider world.


Electricity and water still out of reach. Today I returned from one of the areas most affected by the cyclone. Nearly 30,000 people here met a watery grave. In Kyalatt, Phaypon, Bogala and the villages around, thousands perished … People do not have drinking water and there is no food. Children bite at coconut shells. Decaying debris lies in the waterlogged terrain. Dead animals are spread out near the debris. The people have neither the energy nor the will to bury them. There are many refugees, living in roofless churches and monasteries. Help has not reached them. We are doing what is possible in Burma. During the last two days we have been reaching out to the starving people. With the price of diesel skyrocketing and fuel not available, transport is still a problem. There is still no electricity or water even in Yangon. — Burmese aid worker, via Eureka Street

Ten days on, the sheer numbers in need overwhelm. “Help us.” read a signboard on the road leading to Kunchankone. Little else really needs to be said. Ten days since Cyclone Nargis tore through Burma’s low lying delta region, the relief that has arrived cannot match the sheer enormity of the needs of the victims. In Kunchankone, the local Red Cross run disbursement centre allots each family a single egg and a packet of instant noodles per day. Elsewhere, people who walk to distribution centres from villages off the main road report receiving 4.2 kilograms of rice per family per week. This failure to adequately meet the needs of Burma’s cyclone-affected population is not simply a function of the government’s actions or inactions – but more than anything a testament to the plight of millions of people. — Eyewitness account via Mizzima

The role of eyewitness accounts. CNN reported today that between 63,000 and 100,000 people have died as a result of the May 3 cyclone in Burma. According to the Washington Post , the death toll from Monday’s earthquake in China has exceeded 12,000 and is expected to rise. Where do natural-disaster death estimates come from? Eyewitnesses and guesswork. Government relief workers and agents from NGOs assess stricken neighborhoods for casualties. They literally count bodies, take down reports from district officials or locals who have lost family members, and make estimates based on damage to infrastructure. (If there are 20 people missing and they all worked in a building that collapsed due to a tremor, the relief workers might count those 20 people as dead.) — Juliet Lapidos, Slate


Sensitive earthquake advertising.  Today’s Southern Metropolis Daily ran a special edition about the Sichuan earthquake. A few changes were made on the front page design to cope with this special occasion. On the top, the usually garish red-and-yellow-colored masthead “Southern Metropolis Daily” gave way to the headline reading “Shock China” (震撼中国) printed in big, bold, black type. The masthead has retreated to the top right corner and was printed in a size much smaller than usual. The big photo in the middle shows a father trying to identify his child from a line of dead bodies. — Danwei

Photo gallery here— via Danwei

Twitter breaks Chinese earthquake news. Like many others, I woke up this morning to news of a disaster in China: a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in the southwest, with thousands of people either dead or injured. Unlike some, I didn’t get the news from the radio or TV — I got it from Twitter, a group-chat/instant messaging client that has been gaining in popularity as a real-time news application. Much like the forest fires in California last fall and other recent news events, Twitter became one of the main sources of on-the-ground reporting — even before CNN started picking up what was happening, and with more personal detail. According to Search Engine Land, Twitter even beat the U.S. Geological Survey, which tracks quake readings. During such times, Twitter seems like a “crowd-sourced” reporting tool, much like what of Vancouver has created but with cellphones and 140 character messages as the medium. In any disaster, one of the first things people look for is the eyewitness account, the first-person description, the man on the scene. — Matthew Ingram, Globe and Mail

Chinese netizens discuss the initial quake. Swarms of people went online to share their experiences during the quakes that lasted for over 10 seconds.

From Xi’an, a city in mid-China: The city was rocking for over 10 seconds, the land trembling, so were the windows, doors rattling. Now people are gathering in the yard. But the cellphones are not able to work.

From Shanghai: The quake was felt here too. Our building wobbled for a few minutes, which made me dizzy.

From Guangzhou: Guangzhou got it, too. I thought I had parkinsonism.
I was then crouching on my seat, involuntarily shaking left and right. So terrible!
7.8! Pray no one get hurt. Such a year! — via Global Voices Online

Where to give blood.

We know that many of you have been affected by the tragic aftermath of this week’s devastating earthquake in Wenchuan and are looking for ways to help the victims, so here is your chance to immediately get involved. We received word from that the blood mobile will be out today in front of the Shanghai Exhibition Center opposite the Portman Hotel (a.k.a. the Shanghai Center). Those interested in donating blood have been instructed to make an appointment with Shanghai United Family Hospital by calling 5133-1968. — Shanghaiist

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.