NEW YORK Two National Public Radio correspondents in central China by chance for a week's worth of feature stories instead found themselves reporting gripping details of the earthquake that killed thousands on Monday.
Melissa Block narrated a first-person account while the ground was shaking and her report made it onto NPR within an hour and a half.
Block and fellow "All Things Considered" host Robert Siegel were in China to report a week's worth of stories that were to air next week, the first time they had taken their show overseas. They purposely went to Chengdu because it was a city many Americans knew little about.
Block was about to interview a Protestant minister for a story about the influence of religion in the area when the quake struck.
"I had literally not gotten the first question out of my mouth when I heard this deep rumbling noise and this shaking of glass and I saw this look of panic on his face and the face of his colleagues and they dashed out of the room," she told The Associated Press.
She followed them onto the street, all the while describing what was going on into her microphone. The quake lasted three minutes.
"The pavement was moving up and down and buildings were shaking and bricks and stones were falling off the tops of buildings," she said. "The cross on the top of the church where we were talking was waving wildly back and forth ... It was surreal."
There was an immediate sense of relief when the earth stopped shaking that the buildings around them had not not fallen, she said. The streets were filled with people using text messages to contact families and friends.
For a few hours, Block and NPR producers in Washington could not locate Siegel. But Block and Siegel found each other near their hotel in Chengdu and compared notes. He had been out reporting.
Block was then driven to the site of a school collapse in the town of Juyuan, where the scene left her shaken.
"I'd just never been confronted by dozens upon dozens upon dozens of bodies of children wrapped in plastic with parents coming in and identifying them and upon realizing it was their child, collapsing in grief," she said.
"It was a scene that was repeated over and over again," she said. "I thought I had seen the extent of the victims and my producer said look over there and there were four times as many under a tent."
Angry survivors and police surrounded Block and producer Andrea Hsu, forcing them to leave the scene.
Block spoke at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday in China, where she was preparing to sleep for a few hours in her room on the 26th floor of a hotel. Hsu wasn't as confident, and was planning to sleep on a chair in the hotel's lobby.
They were to continue their earthquake reporting on Tuesday, NPR said.