When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Lushan county in Ya’an, Southwest China’s Sichuan province, in April 2013, it left a trail of destruction in its wake. Buildings crumbled, and people were trapped under the rubble, desperately in need of help. Amidst the chaos, one young man stepped up to the challenge: 15-year-old Zeng Qiangfei.
Zeng was in his morning class when the earthquake hit, causing him to fall and nearly get trampled on. But thanks to the quick thinking of a classmate, he was pulled to safety. His family’s house, like many others in the area, was reduced to rubble, and they were forced to take refuge in a temporary settlement.
Having experienced the trauma of a massive earthquake himself, Zeng’s gratitude for the people who had lent a helping hand to his hometown encouraged him to help others in danger, even if they were half a world away.
Zeng became a member of the Sichuan branch of Ramunion, a Chinese rescue team, and when two earthquakes measuring 7.7 and 7.6 on the Richter scale struck southern provinces of Turkiye in February 2022, he didn’t hesitate to join the international rescue force after receiving a call-up from his headquarters on Feb 8.
Thanks to the exit and entry administration in Lushan expediting the issuance of his passport, Zeng and his teammates were able to embark on the rescue journey within two days, armed with first aid kits, disinfectants, light-duty demolition tools, and other relief materials.
Zeng’s experience of surviving a massive earthquake had instilled in him the importance of helping those in need, regardless of national boundaries. “I remember seeing rescuers work day and night searching for signs of life and treating the injured. Such scenes were so powerful that they greatly dispelled my fear,” says Zeng.
Sichuan has experienced numerous earthquakes in the past two decades, with several counties, including Wenchuan, Jiuzhaigou, and Lushan, suffering enormous losses of life and property.
In the aftermath of those devastating disasters, rescuers and volunteers from across China and even abroad risked their own lives to help people in the quake-stricken areas.
Zeng joined the Ramunion in 2021, while already working in the catering industry. “But whenever there is a disaster that needs the rescue effort of Ramunion, my teammates and I ask for leave from work immediately and head to the scene of the disaster,” he says.
In June 2022, Lushan county was hit by another strong quake, and this time Zeng was working in the provincial capital, Chengdu. He rushed back home, but this time as a rescuer, and pulled many people out of harm’s way.
Three months later, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake jolted Sichuan’s Luding county. Zeng and his teammates worked for six days in a hard-hit village cut off from the outside world, assisting firefighters in rescue and evacuation and undertaking the job of delivering and distributing relief materials.
Thanks to the experience in quake relief and rescue skills acquired through special training sessions, in Turkiye, Zeng and his Ramunion teammates searched over 170 collapsed buildings and freed nine trapped survivors.
Zeng’s participation in international disaster relief missions has given him a better understanding of the notion of a community with a shared future. “National boundaries don’t matter when disasters happen because we all live in the same global village,” adds Zeng.
The importance of disaster relief and rescue efforts cannot be overstated, particularly in areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes. The devastation caused by these disasters can leave people feeling helpless and alone, with nowhere to turn.