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Lee Wah-chu, a Foreman with FEHD, spoke of his experiences as part of the team. “As a Station Sergeant (Auxiliary) for 35 years, I could physically cope with the one-week long environmental disinfection operation. But the risk that the mountains could collapse at any moment was something I had never expected. And I was most impressed by the spirit of our public health team. All of us, regardless of rank, were committed to doing our job – disinfecting the affected areas and preventing the outbreak of disease.”

Sense of obligation

Yiu Chi-chung, Workman II, another member of the public health team from FEHD, said that during the operation, it really struck home just how important were the department’s regular emergency mock exercises. “Although the scale of the disaster this time was much larger than that of the mock exercises, the experience gained from them did help a great deal,” he said.

Immediately after the earthquake, the Home Affairs Department (HAD) put in place a mechanism to channel donations from Hong Kong citizens to the victims of the earthquake. From May 14, 20 Public Enquiry Service Centres of the 18 District Offices and Post Offices began collecting donations from citizens during office hours.

HAD’s colleagues in District Offices have assisted local organisations’ fund raising activities in the districts. As at July 9, HAD had collected donations amounting to more than $205 million through its mechanism. A total amount of $198 million has been passed to five relief organisations.

The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Chengdu (CDETO) made every effort to help Hong Kong residents in Sichuan at the time of the earthquake, assisting the injured and their families by providing translation services, facilitating communication and providing them with water and food.

Beyond the call of duty

Officers of CDETO also went to a Sichuan hospital to visit one Hong Kong woman who was badly injured in the earthquake. Poon Yuet-hor, 60, was working as a volunteer at Chengdu Puzhao Temple when the quake struck. Falling debris left her with serious head injuries, a swollen arm and internal injuries. She was found lying in front of the temple minutes after the disaster struck.

After Ms Poon was admitted to hospital in Chengdu, CDETO liaised with local authorities and medical staff in order that she could undergo surgery and receive blood transfusion immediately, given her critical condition. Apart from supporting Ms Poon and her younger sister, CDETO also arranged for Ms Poon’s Hong Kong family members to visit Sichuan, and for Ms Poon’s subsequent trip back to Hong Kong for further treatment.

CDETO was also instrumental in helping the Immigration Department (ImmD) locate missing Hong Kong residents. Richard Luk Fong-chun, Director of CDETO, said that providing assistance to all Hong Kong people in Sichuan was his responsibility and his office had used every means possible to find those missing. Two Immigration Officers were sent from Beijing to help the office in the support work.

Putting fears aside

Mr Luk said that none of the CDETO staff or their families left Chengdu in the aftermath of the quake, despite the dangers. One officer from Beijing, who had recently married in Hong Kong, even postponed his honeymoon and came direct to Chengdu to help. The staff themselves had a dramatic escape from their 38th floor tower block when the earthquake struck. The employees, including two pregnant women, laid low during the two-to-three-minute quake, then fled down the stairs to an open area. By evening, CDETO was already immersed in emergency co-ordination work. During the next three weeks, CDETO operated emergency co-ordination out of a temporary accommodation.