At Webster’s China Campus, a Viennese Study Abroad Student Was an Eye Witness; Today He is “Grateful to be Alive”

News | Marlies Dachler | June 2008

A man kisses his pregnant wife after the earthquake in the Sichuan Province, China (Photo: Jane Liu)

Webster University China’s faculty and staff were left unharmed by the powerful earthquake that shook China’s Sichuan province on May 12, 2008.

Despite the Chengdu campus’s geographical proximity to the epicenter of the quake, no one was hurt, as there were no classes in session that day. Webster China director Dr. Richard Foristel at the Shanghai campus confirmed that there was no damage to the campus itself, and that the overall damage in Chengdu was far less severe than elsewhere.

Vienna MBA student Stefan Tauchhammer is currently studying abroad in China and experienced the earthquake first hand:

"I was having Chinese class in the 4th floor of a building in Chengdu when, all of a sudden, the earth started shaking. In the beginning I thought that I was just dizzy but within a few seconds it got stronger and stronger then it came to my mind that it could be an earthquake," Tauchhammer said in an email. "I started hiding underneath a doorframe as I thought it was the safest thing to do."

Usually weaker earthquakes just last a couple of seconds, Tuchhammer had learned, but this one "got stronger and stronger. There was a loud noise of the buildings nearby shaking and some of our furniture was starting to crack. That moment was the first time I thought I was going to die."

The situation was very dramatic and some of the students began praying. While the building was still moving, the students collected their things and ran out of the building, scared it would collapse on top of them.

Outside, "the street was full of people panicking," Tauchhammer wrote. "Some pieces had fallen off from buildings and destroyed whatever was in their way. I felt so grateful for still being alive."

Chengdu, a 10 million people city, was just 60 kilometers away from the epicenter, and inhabitants seemed to have been very lucky. Eyewitnesses described the despair of people who had lost their property, friends, relatives, or family. In the days following the earthquake, millions of Chinese were out in the streets of the city, which was completely shut down as a consequence of the disaster.

While Webster was spared the destruction that characterized the landscape of many parts of China, students and staff felt strong empathy with the victims:

"I’m sure all of you join me in sending heartfelt sympathy to all people of China where this earthquake has caused massive destruction," the director said in a statement to the Webster community.

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    the vienna review June 2008