Teacher recalls battle with tornado that killed 98 in China

Published 8:56 am Friday, June 24, 2016

YANCHENG, China — Teacher Guo Haimei said the ferocious wind, blacked with dust and debris, seemed to descend out of nowhere onto her kindergarten and its 120 pupils.

Within minutes, the powerful tornado and its accompanying rain and hailstorm had scythed through the area of eastern China with merciless force, leaving almost 100 people dead and another 800 injured.

“I was very scared. I had no idea what was happening,” said Guo. “When I tried to close the door, my hand was injured by the wind pushing it back.”

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Guo and her mostly 6-year-old pupils were among the lucky ones. Although the school was heavily damaged, just seven students were injured, two of them seriously.

One day after the storm, rescuers on Friday continued searching for survivors in this densely populated area of farms and factories on the outskirts of the major city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province.

The twister was one of the most extreme weather events witnessed by China in recent years, leaving a swath of destruction with destroyed buildings, smashed trees and flipped vehicles on their roofs. A sprawling solar panel factory was shredded, forcing fire crews to secure toxic materials before they leaked into neighboring waterways.

As the death toll climbed to 98 on Friday, doctors said most of the 800 injured had broken bones and deep lacerations, especially on the head. Medical crews dad been rushed to the area, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Beijing.

Rescuers carried hurt villagers into ambulances and delivered food and water, while army units worked to clear roads blocked by trees, downed power lines and other debris. While the weather cleared Friday, forecasters were warning of the possibility of more heavy rain, hailstorms and even additional twisters.

“The people inside tried to run outside, but the wind was too strong so they couldn’t,” Xintu villager Wang Shuqing told an Associated Press reporter. “My family members were all inside, they all died. The police then came and took the bodies out. I can’t bear it.”

The disaster was declared a national-level emergency, and on a trip to Uzbekistan on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered the central government to provide all necessary assistance.

Tents and other emergency supplies were being sent from Beijing, while schools and other facilities were used to shelter survivors, state broadcaster CCTV said.