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China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By ZHAOXU zhaoxu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

he lives of Lu Guilan and pho­tog­ra­pher Wang Wenlan min­gled for a few min­utes on Aug 9, 1976. For­morethan 12 days, Lu, a mother in her 40s, had sur­vived un­der de­bris with noth­ing to eat and drink­ing her own urine along with rain­wa­ter that seeped through the cracks of fallen bricks and mor­tar.

She had be­come trapped after the dead­li­est earth­quake of the 20th cen­tury hit Tangshan, He­bei prov­ince, at 3 amon July 28, 1976, killing more than 240,000 and in­jur­ing an­other 16,000.

The mo­ment Lu was car­ried out by res­cuers, eyes shut and limbs stretched out, was cap­tured by Wang, then a 23-year-old Army pho­tog­ra­pher.

“The long ex­po­sure has given the pic­ture a slightly soft fo­cus. I later used strong film de­vel­op­ing fluid in or­der to heighten the im­age,” re­called Wang, who is to­day vicechair­man of the China Pho­tog­ra­phers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. “The re­sult is stark im­me­di­acy ac­cen­tu­ated by a rawsense of his­tory.”

Mirac­u­lous survival

To­day, the 63-year-old vividly re­mem­bers the jour­ney to Tangshan, 200 kilo­me­ters north of Beijing.

“We set off at 9 am, six hours after the earth­quake wreaked havoc. It took 20 hours due to all the dam­age done to roads and bridges,” he said.

“When night fell, a deadly si­lence also fell. For most peo­ple, the fight for life was over. Oc­ca­sion­ally, there would be the sound of wheels grind­ing on the rugged— and rup­tured— ground. Se­ri­ously in­jured peo­ple, and prob­a­bly their re­mains, were be­ing car­ried away on carts.”

Given all that, the survival of Lu was a sheer miracle. “Eight days into the res­cue, sol­diers had stopped find­ing new sur­vivors. Then, at noon on the 13th day after our ar­rival, I was told that a trace of life had been dis­cov­ered un­der­neath the crum­bled struc­ture of a hos­pi­tal,” said Wang, who rushed to the site. “With no heavy ma­chin­ery, all the dig­ging had to be done by hand.”

The ef­fortwen­ton­for seven hours. Bythe time the last con­crete slab­was about to­belifted, Wang­put­down­his spade and took up his cam­era.

Most of these images, in­clud­ing Lu’s res­cue, were first pub­lished in 1986, a decade of the earth­quake, when Tangshan was com­mem­o­rat­ing the dis­as­ter with a photo ex­hi­bi­tion. Wang re­turned to Tangshan and met Lu.

The last timeWang went to Tangshan was five years ago. The re­cov­ery is ev­i­dent.

“The city is as modern as rea­son­ably ex­pect,” he said.

How­ever, the pho­tog­ra­pher has not doubt that the mem­ory of the earth­quake still haunts.

“Day­break came a fe­whours after my ar­rival in Tangshan in July 1976. As the faint sun­light re­vealed the full scale of the dis­as­ter, the only thing I could think about was an atomic bomb,” he said.

“The next few days saw sweep­ing wind and rain ev­ery night. It was as if na­ture in­tended to oblit­er­ate from the sur­face of earth any trace of the tragedy. But like the seep­ing rain­wa­ter, sad­ness just sank into peo­ple’s hearts, deeper and deeper.”

Wang joined China Daily in 1980 and has con­tin­ued to shoot pic­tures for the pa­per.

“I first picked up a cam­era at 14. For the next seven or eight years, I took a lot of pic­tures ofmy­self.

“But Tangshan changed ev­ery­thing. It was the first time I turned my lens to­ward peo­ple in pain, and to­ward his­tory un­rav­el­ing,” he said. “That was re­ally the end of a self-in­fat­u­ated young man and the be­gin­ning of a se­ri­ous pho­to­jour­nal­ist.” I can

Like the seep­ing rain­wa­ter, sad­ness just sank into peo­ple’s hearts.”

PHOTOS BY WANG WENLAN

Top: Lu Guilan, a middle-aged woman, is res­cued by sol­diers after sur­viv­ing un­der wreck­age for more than 12 days. Bot­tom: after the mag­ni­tude 7.8 quake hit Tangshan, He­bei prov­ince, on July 28, 1976. Sol­diers run to the res­cue

Wang Wenlan, now a China Daily pho­tog­ra­pher, is shown doc­u­ment­ing the res­cue mis­sion when he par­tic­i­pated as a sol­dier in 1976.

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