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ABC's China Correspondent reports from the Ch -

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ELEANOR HALL: And just before we went to air I spoke with to the ABC's China correspondent Stephen
McDonell who is in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.

Stephen, you have been travelling for several hours to try to get to the disaster area - can you
describe the area where you are now and what damage you have seen on the way?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well, it has been a real battle to get even to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.
The airport has been closed overnight. Closed at least to private flights. I am assuming that they
are bringing a lot of troops in there to help with this huge relief effort, this huge rescue
attempt that is going on at the moment so we have been driving all through the night and we are
just approaching the capital now.

Roads all round Sichuan though, at various times, have had to get off freeways which have been
closed. Drive down dirt roads. Very difficult to find your way around here at the moment.

ELEANOR HALL: Sichuan is the most highly populated part of China. Tell us a bit more about the area
where the quake hit.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well, Wenchuan county which is where the epicentre was, we still don't know even
how bad it is at the worst hit areas. That is because rescue workers not only haven't been able to
get to the area, they can't make telephone contact.

At one point a local government official got hold of a satellite phone and frantically called for
help and so people are trying to get help to that area. Soldiers are actually walking and they are
on foot because military helicopters can't land. It is a very mountainous area and the main road in
there has been completely cut-off by a landslide so it is proving very difficult to rescue people
in that area.

ELEANOR HALL: Now in contrast to the government of Burma, the Chinese authorities do appear to be
responding quickly to the disaster. What have you seen of the response?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well, I think they do a lot of earthquake planning here and the response has been
very quick indeed. It has sort of gone straight over into disaster mode. I mean before we even
heard of how many people had been killed, the President Hu Jintao was coming out and telling
people, you know, you have got to be making a big effort to try and rescue the victims of this
earthquake so we know straight away that it was going to be pretty bad.

So we are seeing trucks with soldiers going past us and you know, it is all in all a very big
effort to try and rescue as many people as they can.

ELEANOR HALL: And you say that it is difficult to know exactly how extensive the damage is but we
are hearing that at least eight schools collapsed with hundreds of children inside, that must be
causing terrible grief. What is the latest on the rescue efforts there?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Yes, well one of the worst bits of news has been is that the schools that have
collapsed. Especially in Dujiangyan city. There was one school were 900 high school students were
trapped.

We are getting reports that they are clawing their way out of the rubble with their classmates
calling out for help behind them. There are people using large machinery to try and lift heavy bits
of rubble. Parents, grieving parents, crying outside there and actually Premier Wen Jiabao has gone
firstly to that school to try and reassure people and to try and urge rescue workers who must be
getting pretty tired now to keep on digging to see how many people they can pull out and that is
only one school.

We are hearing report of another school in the same area where 500 students were also trapped and
possibly only as many as 100 have survived.

ELEANOR HALL: There are also two chemical plants apparently were damaged. What can you tell us
about that? What sort of chemicals were in them?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Yes, In Shifang there were two collapsed chemical plants. Reports that 80 tonnes
of liquid ammonium leaked out. Now that, apart from the fact that the workers in that factory would
have been endangered by the collapse, again that is going to complicate things in that you've got
toxic chemicals leaking all around the place with rescue workers trying to get in there and rescue
people.

Mind you there has also been another report of a separate factory on Xinhua saying that thousands
of people might have been killed in one incident when a factory collapsed so I think it is going to
be pretty bad. That the death toll seems to be just getting higher and higher.

ELEANOR HALL: The quake was so strong it was felt as far away as Bangkok, where were you when it
hit?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well, I was sitting in the Beijing bureau typing away and I had this sensation
that I was feeling a bit dizzy and I thought what is that, you know and then someone came into the
office and said I think we are having an earthquake.

We sort of saw the doors were shaking. We all stood up and when we realised that it kept going. It
must have been going for a couple of minutes. We thought we better get out of there so we left the
building, the ABC bureau, ran downstairs and went outside and people all through the CBD in Beijing
left these tall buildings so it was, felt quite significantly in Beijing.

Even the iconic towers in Shanghai, the same thing. People walked out of those office towers when
they started shaking.

I mean the eerie thing was knowing that if we were getting an earthquake shaking of our building
there in Beijing, I was thinking at the time that it has got to be really bad somewhere and it
turns out that it was and that is where I am right now.

ELEANOR HALL: And Stephen, just give us a sense. What is the distance there? How far away from
Shanghai and Beijing are you now?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Oh, it is about 900 kilometres I think. Something like that from Shanghai. It is
like Beijing. A long way and the difficulty here as well by the way, to give you an idea, to get
from Chengdu to Dujiangyan city where this school has collapsed, the one with 900 students, that is
a 50 kilometre road. Our driver is telling us it is going to take three hours to get there because
the main road has collapsed and we have to drive around rainy conditions on back streets to get
there.

Now Wenchuan, I mean if the Chinese military can't get in there to rescue people with all the
resources available to them, you can imagine how bad the roads have got to be and how difficult the
situation is in terms of rescuing people.

ELEANOR HALL: And that is the ABC's China correspondent Stephen McDonell who is in Chengdu.