Dali Bai, earthquakes
Medical staff treats a woman at a shelter in Xiuling Village of Yangbi Yi Autonomous County in southwest China's Yunnan Province on May 22, 2021. Four earthquakes over 5.0-magnitude struck Yangbi Yi Autonomous County in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Photo credit: © Hu Chao/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

Dali, a popular tourist destination in Yunnan Province, China, was hit with a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on Friday. Three people were killed, and at least 28 were injured. WhoWhatWhy’s Xinle Hou was at the scene when the quake struck. This is her account of what happened:

I was getting ready for a Zoom meeting with a colleague in the lobby of my hotel in Shuanglang, Dali, when the quake hit.  

I suddenly felt the floor shaking. It was a slight to medium tremor that stopped after a few seconds. I couldn’t tell if it was an earthquake, and I kept doing my work. A few minutes later, another wave hit — this time it was more intense. I fell off the couch and sat on the floor. The whole house began shaking. People began rushing downstairs. Later, I learned from other tourists who had checked online that there had been at least 21 shocks in the last three hours. My Zoom call had ended when the screen froze unexpectedly.

I went upstairs and took a shower for about 15 minutes, and chatted with my friend about what had just happened. Then messages began coming in from my friends and family wanting to know if I was alright. My friend had experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake earlier when she was in Japan. She was in a subway station when the quake took place, and she said that the shock seemed similar to this one. She was not afraid, because, having lived in Taiwan and Japan, she had grown used to earthquakes. 

I lay on my bed for the next hour and several more shocks hit. They felt a bit stronger in our room on the fourth floor. I went to the lobby to keep on with my work. My friend went back to sleep. When I reached the lobby, I saw three women who were guests of the hotel sleeping on couches. They were afraid of the aftershocks. 

Just before midnight, a man walked down to the lobby, placed his credit card on the front desk, and then left with his luggage. He was supposed to leave the next day, the desk clerk told me, but he was frightened by the earthquake and checked out in a rush.

At around 12:05 a.m., my friend texted me that the hotel staff had asked her to go downstairs. The village authorities announced that we should go outside and stay in a clear area. The hotel owner and her husband began moving chairs outside the hotel. In the end, there were just over a dozen people sitting on chairs in front of the hotel. One person went to sleep in the seat of a bicycle rickshaw that was parked there.  

The hotel owner said he had heard that a major shock was going to hit at just after midnight. Thankfully, nothing happened. 

A man joked that, “When an earthquake hits, people who run fastest must come from Sichuan.” That was a reference to the Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008. He and his father are all Shanghainese, and came to Shuanglang, Dali, from Jianshui. They reminded everyone that “A lot of stars are on the skies,” and walked to darker places to take pictures of the Big Dipper and even of each other to “remember this memorable moment.” They were planning to leave Dali the next day. They reminded everyone that train and bus ticket prices were likely to rise very fast after the earthquake, and that tickets were almost all sold out.

A girl sitting next to her father was video chatting with her boyfriend, who had just returned to Kunming the day before. They were on a trip to Dali together, and her boyfriend had gone back to Kunming early for work. Her boyfriend told her that he could feel the earthquake in Kunming. “I don’t understand the people who just checked out, and tried to drive out of Dali overnight. Unless they can get out of the province, they will feel the earthquake anyways,” she said. 

A couple who lived in Kunming agreed with her. The wife was five months pregnant. They were now on their honeymoon despite having been married for five months. The couple said they were really calm when the earthquake first hit around 9:00 p.m. The wife saw the glass door shaking for 2-3 seconds and was not sure if it was an earthquake or a heavy car passing by. They panicked a little bit, went to the first floor, sat in the garden for half an hour, and then went back to the room until the hotel owner told them to go outside. The husband went online to look for news about the quake. His wife joked that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and their baby experienced 21 waves of shock in three hours. 

We sat outside for an hour, and, as no further shock happened, people started to go back to their rooms to sleep. A girl decided to sleep on the couch on the first floor as she was still worried about the earthquake. 

As people moved the chairs back into the hotel, the owner told everyone not to worry. He had originally majored in engineering, and he figured that the hotel could survive a magnitude 8 earthquake. 

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