Updated: 08/07/2014 05:30 | By Agence France-Presse

In the rubble of China's earthquake, a father's horror

Staring at the blades of a mechanical digger as it combed through the debris that entombs his only child, Zhao Dekun on Wednesday faced the grim reality that time has run out.


In the rubble of China's earthquake, a father's horror

Damaged houses after an earthquake in Longtoushan township in Zhaotong, China on August 5, 2014

"It has been four days. I don't have any hope now," Zhao says, shaking his head with sorrow as he surveyed a huge pile of rubble in Longtoushan, the epicentre of a magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck Sunday in China's southwestern Yunnan province.

Zhao works at the government water bureau in the township, and his family, who live in nearby Zhaotong city, came to visit him over the summer holidays.

His wife is a teacher, and was taking the opportunity to spend time with her husband during the long recess from school. She will likely never walk again after the injuries she sustained at Zhao's work dormitory when the tremor struck.

Worse, his five-year-old son Zhao Shu was crushed as he played in a courtyard nearby the government buildings that house his father's office, Zhao said.

The government employee had only relocated a month ago after a change of job within the water bureau.

"I am feeling so fragile and weak now," he said as he turned momentarily from the digging before quickly turning back again.

"I have been here all the time, and have only slept for a few hours."

Zhao placed himself at certain points around the digger's blades, looking down from different angles in the hope of finding some clue to his son's location.

"My son was lively and cheerful," added the 34-year-old, who is originally from Zhaotong, a two-hour drive from Longtoushan. 

"He only came to the courtyard because he wanted to be near me and he was looking for friends to play with," he added.

The government buildings stand facing each other around the small square on a slope overlooking Longtoushan. They are perched on a 600-metre swathe of hillside that bore the brunt of the township's devastation.

The ground floor of the nearby three-storey work dormitory, which was about the size of a tennis court, has been almost entirely swallowed up.

The rest was left tilting forwards, while a hotel opposite was also leaning towards the road.

The police station on the courtyard square was entirely demolished and cars that were parked in the yard where the younger Zhao was playing were twisted and mangled, as if they had fallen down a steep cliff.

- 'My little child didn't escape' -

The yard was entirely covered in debris, and office equipment such as stationery, calendars and posters littered the floor. 

But Zhao narrowly escaped with his life by running as he felt the early tremors, while his son -- who was only about two metres (6.5 feet) away outside -- was crushed by the adjacent building.

"I escaped, but (he) failed. My little child didn't escape," Zhao said despondently, with a hint of guilt.

Nearby on the hill, huge cracks appeared in the road and every building had sunk into the earth or was totally demolished.

Some of the residents living in the area were returning to their homes, climbing through broken windows in a perilous attempt to retrieve valuable items.

Others stood, arms folded, surveying the damage at a location which had previously taken pride of place in Longtoushan, overlooking the township and the steep, green hills that look down on it.

"My son broke his arm in that building," said a man who was pacing up and down the main street on the hill.

"We don't know what we have done to deserve this."

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