On May 20, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, accompanied by local officials, toured a number of quake-hit areas to inspect rescue and relief work.
Mr. Li traveled in an off-road vehicle from Dujiangyan to Wenchuan, the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake. He went ahead with his visit despite warnings of a major aftershock on regional news reports.
At 11:40 AM, Mr. Li stopped at the mouth of the 961.5 meter Youyi Tunnel, to talk to local people who were living in makeshift huts nearby.
Vice-Premier Li inquired about their welfare: “How are you coping? Do you have enough food? How many people are there to a hut? How long can you hold out? ”
“Please try not to worry. The government is sending tents and will help you recover,” Li reassured them, after learning that the quake had destroyed most of the village’s houses.
Vice-Premier Li then asked to be driven through the tunnel to inspect rescue work in Wenchuan.
The tunnel, already cracked and damaged by the earthquake, had been pounded by a landslide earlier that morning. If an aftershock occurred while the convoy was inside the tunnel, the results would be catastrophic. Mr Li’s escort tried to dissuade him, but he insisted on proceeding.
As the cars sped through the tunnel Mr Li spotted a police officer with a bandaged head. He immediately told his driver to pull over, and got out of the car to talk to the officer.
Mr Li, who had earlier been thoroughly briefed on the situation in Wenchuan, spent the rest of the day consulting with, and directing, leaders of the local relief effort. “Wenchuan was right at the epicenter of the quake and its roads, bridges and telecommunications have been wrecked. We must spare no effort to rebuild its infrastructure. There is no time to lose,” he said.
National Highway 213, in particular, has become a bottleneck for relief convoys. “This highway is the local people’s lifeline. It is holding up the transportation of relief supplies. We must make the highway passable regardless of cost or difficulty,” said Li, before wishing the relief workers well and asking them to take care of themselves.
(China.org.cn by He Shan, May 22, 2008)