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Chinese International Search and Rescue Team 10 Years On
Cover Stories Series 2011> Chinese International Search and Rescue Team 10 Years On
UPDATED: August 15, 2011 NO. 33 AUGUST 18, 2011
Rising to the Challenge
The China International Search and Rescue Team has grown up amid disasters

UNITY IS STRENGTH: CISAR members search for survivors in earthquake-hit Yushu County, Qinghai Province, on April 16, 2010 (WEN YIWEN)

Xue Xiao, a student at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, recently traveled to Beijing to thank the people who saved his life after the Wenchuan earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008.

Xue is a familiar face in China where he is known to millions as the "Coke Boy."

Three years ago the 8.0-magnitude earthquake trapped Xue and his classmates, who were taking a chemistry class, under rubble. Rescue workers discovered them the next morning and a pipe with glucose flowing in it was handed down to Xue to give him nutrition.

Hours later a woman squeezed into a narrow crack in the debris and reached out to shake Xue's hand. Despite strong aftershocks, the woman repeatedly crawled into the crevice to speak to Xue. Later a man arrived at the scene and asked the young student what he would like to do after his rescue. Xue replied, "I want to drink coke."

The man promised to give him a can of coke and the moment he was carried out of the debris on a stretcher, Xue reminded the man of his promise. "Uncle, I want to drink coke, with ice," Xue said.

The scene was aired on TV, and Xue became known throughout the country.

The woman who crawled into the crevice and the man who offered coke, however, weren't simply well meaning strangers. They were members of the China International Search and Rescue Team (CISAR). The woman, Liu Yahua, is a doctor at the General Hospital of the Armed Police Force in Beijing, and the man, Zhang Jianqiang, is a military officer.

When rescuing Xue and his classmates, CISAR members dug through rubble with their hands rather than mechanical tools as they feared vibrations from the machinery would cause the further collapse of the damaged building.

Working with only their hands, it took them more than 50 hours to get Xue out. Yin Guanghui, a senior member of the CISAR and an official with the China Earthquake Administration, said the CISAR handled the toughest rescue work, so at times the team invested dozens of hours to save one person.

The CISAR was officially established on April 27, 2001. At the turn of the century, the Chinese Government decided a national rescue team was a necessity for post-disaster rescue and relief operations.

Over the past decade, the CISAR has expanded from 222 to 480 members. It has successfully completed 16 post-disaster search and rescue operations, including seven domestic deployments and nine overseas missions in Algeria, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, Haiti, New Zealand and Japan.

Thirteen minutes after the Wenchuan earthquake struck, CISAR members began to assemble. An hour later they departed for Sichuan aboard several military planes, carrying equipment and supplies. After leaving their aircraft, more than 20 trucks took them to the quake's epicenter in Wenchuan County.

Just a minute after their arrival at the scene, they found a survivor. Over the next 15 days, 190 CISAR members worked for 120 hours in the four worst-hit areas, pulling survivors out of the most difficult locations.

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