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A family's harrowing story highlights trauma faced by China quake survivors

Nine-year-old Li Yao survived after being pushed by her teacher out of a collapsing school building. Her family lost their home in the disaster.

May 2008



Li Yao miraculously survived the devastating May 12 earthquake in China with just a few cuts and scrapes. Her family's home was destroyed in the disaster, and they were forced to seek temporary shelter.
Li Yao miraculously survived the devastating May 12 earthquake in China with just a few cuts and scrapes. Her family's home was destroyed in the disaster, and they were forced to seek temporary shelter.
Photo ©2008 Anita Zhao/World Vision
On the afternoon of May 12, Li Yao and her family experienced the worst day of their lives.

"It was a nightmare," says Li Yao's mom, 39, who lives with her family in Hongbai Township of Shifang City in the northern part of Sichuan province, one of the areas hit hardest in the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that has killed more than 32,000 and left some 5 million homeless.

Like every other day, 9-year-old Li Yao had gone to school with her friends after having lunch at home. Soon after the lesson started, they heard a low, rumbling noise, followed by massive shaking of the whole building. Li Yao rushed to the door, screaming with other children.

At that moment, Li Yao felt a big push by someone from behind her back. By the time she realized what was happening, she found herself lying in the courtyard on the ground floor. She had fallen from the third floor — the whole three-story school building collapsing into debris right behind her.

The darkest night

Li Yao was found in the debris by her parents, who survived and rushed from their ruined home to her school. Her clothes were covered in blood, but miraculously, she had only minor injuries, including scratches on the left side of her face and legs where she had landed.

Now homeless, Li Yao and her family huddled under a tree throughout the night. With darkness came a heavy rain. Survivors dug through the rubble of their collapsed houses, looking for missing family members.

Thinking of that horrible night, Li Yao's mom becomes visibly emotional. "I have never experienced such a dark night," she says. "The earth kept shaking; crying and shouting never stopped in the whole night."

There were more than 300 students in Li Yao's school. More than 200 were killed; some children are still missing.

Our response


Read the latest updates on World Vision's relief and recovery efforts following China's devastating earthquake on May 12.
"If not for [their teacher] pushing them out of the door, none of them would have survived," says Li Yao's mother, crying. "The teacher herself was buried in the ruin. She has a 4-month-old baby to feed..."

A brutal scene

What appeared after daybreak was even more devastating: Hongbai Township, once prosperous, was now ruined.

There was no water, electricity, or food. The local hospital was seriously damaged, as was the only highway leading out of town. Li Yao's family decided to journey on foot to seek help together with their relatives who also survived. Her parents covered her eyes as they passed by the tragic scenes of the disaster.

After two hours of hiking through the mud and rain, the exhausted family was picked up by a relief truck and finally taken to a temporary shelter.

A cause for hope

Li Yao signed her own name on the distribution list when World Vision staff members delivered child-friendly kits to the temporary shelter where she was staying with her family.
Li Yao signed her own name on the distribution list when World Vision staff members delivered child-friendly kits to the temporary shelter where she was staying with her family.
Photo ©2008 Anita Zhao/World Vision

More than 1,000 quake survivors have been housed at the temporary shelter center where Li Yao's family arrived. World Vision staff visited the center and delivered child-friendly kits containing stationery and toys to the children. Watching the relief workers taking out new toys from the kit, Li Yao's face slowly eased — and a touch of smile even appeared in her eyes.

By the time World Vision left the center, Li Yao and other children in her room had gathered in a corner to share the toys.

"I like the cartoon notebook most," said Li Yao with a smile. "I will write diaries on it."


Learn more


>> Read the latest updates on World Vision's response to the deadly earthquake in China.

Three ways you can help

>> Pray for children and families in China who have been affected by this deadly earthquake, and pray that aid agencies like World Vision would quickly acquire the resources they need to come to the assistance of those who have been left devastated by this disaster.
>> Donate now to help provide emergency relief to survivors of the recent earthquake in China. Your gift will help World Vision deliver life-saving assistance, including food, water, and shelter, to desperate children and families.
>> Give monthly to help World Vision deliver emergency aid to children and families in the wake of disasters around the world, like the recent quake in China.

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