Matthew Goudge is an Australian chef working in Chengdu, almost in the centre of the earthquake zone. He sent me this report:
May 12th, 2008: I had no idea what the time it was when the monster hit... as it turns out it was 2.28pm.
I was sitting at my desk in the pre-opening office working on a kitchen training powerpoint presentation when all of a sudden everything around me started to frantically shake.
I was the last to leave the building - my office is on the 6th floor of a relatively old 9 story building. The stairwell is close by, as it turns out my regular journeys up and down the stairs for health purposes assisted me in a mad dash to escape from the trembling surroundings.
People were gathered in the alley below the building - I began to make my way to the apartment building whereby Maria my fiancée was located. I was desperately trying to get hold of her on the telephone to no avail; the lines were cut or jammed. The city was in a mad panic, and I was lucky to flag down a taxi. I showed the driver the address, which I have written in the local lingo on a piece of scrap paper. It was a miracle that I managed to get a taxi, as Chengdu has a major taxi shortage at the best of times. I reached the apartment in a short time, and there was rubble scattered all over the road.
I gave the driver the money for the fare and ran into the building and found Maria. She was beside herself - in fact she was talking to her mother on the telephone when the magnitude 8 hit. We gathered some of our important documents and ran out of the building and waited downstairs. The neighborhood was gathering on the footpath area wondering what was going to happen next - there was no information provided in a language that I could understand.
We went back into the building and started to arrange the personal belongings, packing a number of bags of essential items and left them nearby the door ready for evacuation. The electricity was cut, however the gas was still available. I began to prepare some penne bolognaise and there was a knock at the door. The person suggested (in Japanese) we should leave the building as the tremors would soon arrive. My instinct has become pretty good as I deal with the language barrier on a regular basis.
We ventured downstairs with the previously prepare bags of essential items. At this point it was difficult to know what to expect. Would I see my cookbook collection again? Would I be able to find my collection of documents easily? The mind was racing.
At the base of the apartment building we were greeted by the English speaking Singaporean Spa Director from the same property I work with. He suggested that we go with him to the stadium- about a 30 minute walk away; we briskly made our way to the stadium with him. We stayed there overnight - afraid to sleep, it started to rain at 4.20am.
We moved onto the nearby Sheraton Hotel and waited in the lobby. It was at this time that we began to realize the extent of the earthquake via CNN. Devastating - whilst in the Stadium we heard the death toll was 70, now CNN were reporting 10,000 deaths. The epicenter was a mere 90 km away - we both realized how lucky we were. So many thoughts were going through my mind during the previous hours. We trekked back to the apartment to gather a few items and went to stay in a fairly new local Hotel. We ended up staying there a couple of nights, all the utilities were available including the electricity.
To this day the drama is still unfolding. A number of staff have family members that were directly affected by the tragedy. There have been some huge aftershocks, some of 6.5 magnitude - you could almost call them additional earthquakes.