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Quake aid: Neither landslides nor Chinese troops stop this volunteer

Frank Dunne climbs hills and crosses streams to bring aid to remote villages in quake-hit Sichuan Province.

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Peter Ford

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Clambering over giant landslides in the middle of nowhere in Sichuan Province, carrying aid to quake victims, is not what Frank Dunne came to China to do.The beefy, middle-aged salesman from Virginia actually had an even more exotic plan – making apple jam in Tibet. But that was put on hold because Chinese authorities have not allowed Mr. Dunne to go home since the Tibetan uprising in March.

So in his new adventure, he's organizing, sometimes leading, "extreme teams" that the US charity "Heart to Heart" has been sending to more remote mountain villages, schlepping in aid on their backs when the roads are blocked.

His destination last Tuesday was Long Zhu, a scattering of houses across forested hillsides now scarred by rock slides, that he had visited 10 days earlier as the head of the first civilian relief team to reach the 800 inhabitants.

"If not for the earthquake," he says, "I would probably be somewhere else learning Chinese, which is what I ought to be doing. But this gives me a nice, noble reason not to study."

"The place captured my heart because it's just paradise," he explained, "except that at the moment nobody has a house to live in or a dry bed to sleep in."

Getting there would not be easy and might be dangerous. Dunne made the nine members of his team sign release forms and take a group ID photo "in case we get buried under a landslide" provoked by one of the numerous aftershocks that still rattle the region. The latest major aftershock, which struck Thursday, had a magnitude of 5.3.

The village's inaccessibility turned out to be only one of the problems. Trying to get a better grip on the multiplicity of aid efforts, which range from Chinese soldiers and citizen-volunteers to foreign medical teams and private nongovernmental organizations, Chinese officials have begun preventing unofficial distribution of goods not authorized by the government.

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