A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake Monday sent workers in Chengdu, China, into the streets. At least two members of the country’s Jewish community and one Israeli student live in the Sichuan Province city. (Photo: Ying Tang)
Amid news reports that thousands of people perished in a powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake deep in the heart of China’s sprawling Sichuan Province, Israeli diplomats and Jewish communal officials kept up hope that Jewish tourists were spared death and injury.
Staff at the Israeli embassy in Beijing and Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries throughout the country remained apprehensive as media accounts pouring out of Wenchuan County, where the temblor was center, indicated that the shaking caused at least 107 deaths and school collapse buried some 900 children. By nightfall, the body count had skyrocketed as more and more victims were pulled from the rubble.
Dini Freundlich, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Beijing and principal of the Ganeinu International school there, said that the region where the earthquake struck is a popular hangout among Israeli backpackers. It is home to the Wolong Nature Reserve and is near Chengu, Sichuan’s capital. Freundlich added that they felt shaking in Beijing, more than 900 miles away from the epicenter.
Freundlich, whose Chabad House is a frequent stop among Israelis heading into the countryside, said that the network of 22 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries across China were waiting to hear from anyone who might need help getting home or contacting their families.
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Nussin Rodin, who works with university students in Beijing and travels throughout China to supervise the kosher operations of several food manufacturers, confirmed that at least two Jews live in Sichuan.
“I know of two people in Chengdu,” said Rodin. “I called one of them, and I haven’t yet gotten any news.”
At the embassy, Consul Alon Shoham said early Monday that they were waiting on local media reports.
“We have no idea how many backpackers were there,” Shoham said. “But this is a tourist area. The province is the size of half of Europe.”
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that it received a text-message from Israeli student Ronen Medzini indicating that there were power and water outages in Chengdu.
“Traffic jams, no running water, power outs, everyone sitting in the streets, patients evacuated from hospitals sitting outside and waiting,” read the message.