Searching for the Missing in China

His words are heartbreaking for any parent to utter.

"I haven't heard from my 13-year-old daughter for a week since the earthquake and I don't know whether she's dead or alive," says Yang Mingyuan, a short wiry man of around 40 years old.

His eerily calm face suggests a disconnect from his emotions.

Yang has just left his details with the volunteers manning a missing persons desk at a stadium in the Sichuan city of Mianyang, which has been turned into a makeshift shelter for more than 10,000 people made homeless by the massive May 12 earthquake.

Yang Mingyuan scans the notice boards for missing people at a reception center for homeless earthquake survivors in Jiuzhou stadium, Mianyang, Sichuan. He's looking for his 13-year-old daughter, Yang Jing, whom he hasn't heard from for a week since the disaster.

(Sho Huang/IFRC)

He says he has been searching for his daughter everywhere, including one of the hospitals where a patient with the same name was reportedly being treated. But, so far, he has had no success.

"She's old enough to be able to know we're looking for her and to be able to get in touch," he says.

Ma Yubing was working away from home when the earthquake struck. He had no idea what happened to his family but has found his parents in one camp and his brother in another.

(Sho Huang/IFRC)

Hundreds of people every day are trying to get news of missing family members through the network of volunteers, putting up notices and broadcasting messages.

Ma Yubing, a man in his early 20s, is resting in the ringside seats of another stadium-turned-displaced persons camp. He speaks of his relief of locating his parents here, while his brother is in another center for the homeless.

"I was working away from home when the earthquake struck, so I had no idea what had happened to them," he says.

At a Red Cross medical tent at a reception center on a university campus in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, Wang Juyan, in his 70s, is receiving care for his injuries. His house was damaged and his sick wife has not left home since the earthquake.

(Sho Huang/IFRC)

In the grueling afternoon heat in the stadium, a local Red Cross volunteer rushes to organize transportation for a father who, he says, has tracked down his son and wants to go and find him as quickly as possible.

With the Chinese government reporting that up to five million people have been made homeless by the earthquake, finding loved ones amid the vast displaced population is a pressing need.

Teams of experts from the Chinese Red Cross are training groups of volunteers to carry out psychosocial work among the survivors. Their techniques will include approaches adapted to Chinese culture and customs such as tai qi breathing exercises.

"It is normal in a situation like this for people to have feelings that are hard to deal with," says Amgaa Oyungerel, the regional health delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Sichuan.

"Sometimes people just need someone to talk with and comfort them to help relieve stress and the fear of the unknown."