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02:25 Sep 28 2011

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Tibetan monks relive quake rescue
10:04, April 30, 2010  

Looking over a vast grassland and yak herds from his monastery perched on a mountain on the Tibetan plateau, young monk Karma Namgyal barely notices the tranquility of the scene.

"I'm thinking about Yushu all the time," the Tibetan Buddhist said at his home at Sershul Monastery in Sichuan Province, one week after his return from saving lives in neighboring Qinghai Province.

At least 2,200 died and more than 100,000 were left homeless when the 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked Yushu Prefecture April 14.

A remote area with average elevation of 4,000 meters, Yushu is hard to reach. Before thousands of soldiers, armed police, professional rescuers and medical workers arrived, Tibetan monks were the main rescue force.

At least 3,000 Tibetan monks from 36 monasteries volunteered for the rescue operation in the hardest hit town of Gyegu, said Yushu police chief Pan Zhigang. Two thirds of them came from monasteries outside Yushu.

"We didn't have enough police in Yushu," he said. "Though they were inexperienced, the monks helped a lot."

Karma Namgyal happened to be in Gyegu when the quake hit. Frightened by the tremor, he fled from his hotel to see the destruction unfold.

"A multi-story hotel in the town center collapsed. I saw so many bodies and heard cries for help under the debris," he said.

"I felt sad because I wanted to save more, but I had no tools."

Back at Sershul, about 500 monks had been mobilized four hours after the quake, said Khenpo Konchok Thusang. Riding on 40 trucks, vans and cars along the mountain roads, they reached Gyegu two hours later.

They were among the first to arrive.

On a former horse-riding track in downtown Gyegu, the monks set up 200 tents before spreading out in the ruins to save lives.

On the first night, about 700 injured civilians stayed in the tents, along with more than 4,000 homeless who took shelter there against the biting cold, said Khenpo Konchok Thusang.

Without food or water, the monks worked in the ruins with their bare hands until all hours. They slept outside, wrapping themselves in their crimson ropes and holding each other to keep warm, he said.

"Many survivors were crying. Their relatives and friends were dead or missing. Our presence was a comfort to them," said Lozang Gyatso, 27.

Yushu is a predominately Tibetan region, with more than 90 percent of its 300,000 people devout Tibetan Buddhists. They trusted the monks and let them arrange funerals for their loved ones.

Khenpo Dampa Rinchen, a senior monk at Gyegu Monastery, said the monastery had cremated 2,100 quake victims. Most bodies were delivered to the monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist establishment in Gyegu.

"Buddhism teaches us that the greatest virtue is to help others. That's what we monks should do," Karma Namgyal said. "I am glad that I was involved in the quake relief and rescue efforts."

Khenpo Konchok Thusang said he was most impressed by the unity of the monks, soldiers, officials and civilians in the face of the disaster. "The strength of unity is remarkable and deserves admiration," he said.

Karma Namgyal said monastery authorities asked them to return April 21 when the focus shifted to rescuing property in the quake zone.

"It is inappropriate for us to be seen digging in the ruins for assets, and a large number of rescuers had arrived anyway," he said.

"On the way home, I dozed off in the truck from time to time. My dreams were all about Yushu," he said.

Source: Xinhua


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