RELIEF AFTER THE SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008
The government was credited for responding quickly and staying the course and making sure all the quake victims were provided with emergency housing. Many survivors offered nothing but praise for the way the government handled the situation.
China mobilized 39,000 medical personnel, 100 military helicopters and 140,000 troops and paramilitary personnel. More than 100,000 troops were sent directly to the quake-devastated areas. In areas where the roads were blocked by landslides some were parachuted in. Others hiked in About two months after the quake the first group of 40,000 troops began pulling out.
The first stage of the relief efforts was aimed and finding and treating survivors. After a week or so, as chances to find survivors grew slimmer, the focus changed t providing tents and shelter for the homeless, preventing epidemics and averting “secondary disasters” such as landslides and flooding. Donations from home and abroad reached $5.38 billion three weeks after the quake..
Food supplies were dropped by air n remote and hard to reach places. Signs were placed on damaged buildings that read “Dangerous building, don’t come near.” A call went out for millions of tents. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, said, “The Chinese government, at the early stage of this natural disaster, has invested strenuous effort and demonstrated extraordinary leadership.”
Relief work and simply getting to stricken areas was hampered by landslide-blocked roads, collapsed bridges and buckled pavement. Rough weather also made relief effort difficult. A military helicopter carrying injured people crashed in fog and turbulence in Wenchuan county. Fourteen earthquake survivors and five crew were killed. The helicopter was found 11 days later. More than 200 relief workers were buried by landslides during rescue operations.
The government said it aimed to provide 500 grams of food and 10 yuan per person per day for three months to people living in shelters. Messages of the offer were sent via cell phone text messages, But this aid did not always reach people in hard-to-reach ,quake-affected areas.
A Chinese policewoman who breast-feed nine orphaned babies was praised a “hero and model police officer” and promoted to vice commissar.
Mental health workers were sent along with doctors and disaster-relief personnel. Among the problems they had to deal with were helping relatives of the dead and aiding shell-shocked survivors and children so traumatized the were afraid to go to school or even open a textbook.
Websites and Resources
Good Websites on the Sichuan Earthquake: Images of the Sichuan Earthquake china-quake.com ; CNN Reports cnn.com/SPECIALS ; BBC Reports /news.bbc.co.uk ; New York Times Articles nytimes.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Blog with Video sichuanearthquake.org.uk ; Update sichuanearthquake.org.uk ; School Investigator Jailed guardian.co.uk
Earthquakes in China: Historical Earthquakes in China drgeorgepc.com/EarthquakesChina ; USGS China Earthquake Info earthquake.usgs.gov ; Wikipedia List of Earthquakes Wikipedia : Tangshan earthquake Photos typepad.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; USGS Info earthquake.usgs.gov ; Great Tangshan Earthquake pdf file rms.com/Publications
On Earthquakes: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Earthquake Information Center earthquake.usgs.gov ; Wikipedia article on Earthquakes Wikipedia ; Surviving an Earthquake edu4hazards.org ; Earthquake Pamphlet pubs.usgs.gov ; Earthquake severity pubs.usgs.gov ; USGS Earthquake Frequently Asked Questions earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/faq ; Collection of Images from Historic Earthquakes Pacific Earthquake Engineering Researc Center, Jan Kozak Collection ; World Earthquake Map iris.edu/seismon ; Most Recent Earthquakes earthquake.usgs.gov ; Earthquake Safety Site earthquakecountry.info ; Interactive Earthquake Guide guardian.co.uk ; USGS Earthquakes for Kids earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids ; Natural Disasters: Top Ten Natural Disasters in China in the 20th Century pdf file unpan1.un.org ;Wikipedia article on Natural Disasters in China Wikipedia ; Wikipedia List and Links of Natural Disasters Wikipedia ; Hazards and Diasters in China pdf file /adrem.org.cn
Links in this Website: NATURAL DISASTERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARTHQUAKES Factsanddetails.com/China ; EARTHQUAKES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008 Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; RELIEF AND REBUILDING AFTER THE SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008 Factsanddetails.com/China ; SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008, POORLY-BUILT SCHOOLS Factsanddetails.com/China ; FLOODS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEATHER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TYPHOONS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Ordinary Chinese, Volunteers and Relief After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Ordinary Chinese came out in droves to do whatever they could to help. More than $200 million was donated by Chinese in the three days, $500 million in the first week, and more than $1.5 billion at three weeks. In Beijing, Guangzhou and Guangzhou people waited in long lines to donate blood and money and volunteers could seen in almost every neighborhood collecting money. Altogether $15.7 billion was donated.
Tens of thousands of volunteers showed up in the quake-stricken area. Young volunteers from the cities help survivors salvage belongings and comforted people who had lost loved ones. Professionals from Shanghai flew to Chengdu and hiked into remote areas to offer emergency medical assistance. Car caravans brought in things like cooking oil and cell phones donated by businesses. One volunteer told the Los Angeles Times, “I have faced the very real possibility I face death but I have to help.”
Communist Party banners exhorted people to “Fight the earthquake!” The Communist Youth League sent out text messages to volunteer. So many answered the call that there were worries that the volunteers might endanger themselves and use up valuable water and food intended for quake victims. Many of those who showed up were held back by bureaucracy, using up valuable time filling out forms and waiting for assignments and then being sent to places that didn’t really need help.
Contributions from sympathetic Chinese were overwhelming, Roads to devastating towns were packed with volunteers anxious to offer their help. Some people drove in from Beijing and Shanghai, hundreds of miles away, with cars full of food and supplies. So many volunteers appeared that some mountain roads to the quake area were clogged with traffic. So many clothes were dominated they were thrown onto two-meter-high piles in towns.
Outsiders were surprised by the willingness of ordinary Chinese to take the initiative themselves and the flexibility and openness of the government to allow them to participate and follow their own callings rather than follow orders from the government. One Chinese political analyst told the Los Angeles Times, “The Communist government is changing its ruling ideology to become more people-oriented.”
One Western diplomat told the Time of London, “People have been worrying about the selfishness of their society obsessed with making money. They are rejoicing big that in their new-found prosperity they can afford to be altruistic.”
Charity and the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Contributions from private companies, better known for the greediness than charity, contributed over $1 billion. Companies that didn’t give were deemed “iron roosters”’so stingy that can’t even shed a feather---and shamed into giving. Among these were foreign companies like Nokia, Samsung, McDonalds, KFC and Coca-Cola and rich Chinese guys like Wang Shi, a real estate developer, who was slammed because he gave what was regarded as a paltry $290,000 and told his employees not give more than 10 yuan each. In the end he gave about $30 million and admitted the bad publicity negatively affected his company’s stock prices.
The China Youth Daily estimated that 200,000 citizen volunteers from all over China descended on the earthquake zone. Beef was trucked in from Inner Mongolia; sleeping bags were brought in from Shenzhen; building material came from Chongqing. Millions of bottles of water and packets of noodles came in from all over.
In many cases the supplies the volunteers brought it were heaven sent and arrived quicker to places in need than supplies brought in by the military and the government. Many watched television news to decide what to bring. Others learned from early visit what was needed and made repeated return visits. Things like vegetables, which were in short supply in nearby cities like Chengdu, had be brought in from cities further away from the quake zone.
In all $11 billion was given to quake relief.
International Relief After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
China uncharacteristically issued pleas for international aid and assistance to help survivors and head off a post-disaster humanitarian crisis. Russia sent military transport planes to China filled with blankets and tents and set up a field hospitals. The United States filled its transport planes with food and electric generators. The Red Cross set up a mobile hospitals in the hard hit town of Dujiangyan.
The French sent a medical team; Japan sent a search-and-rescue team and then a medical team. The Chinese government agreed to allow Japanese military planes to bring in tents and other relief supplies---which would have been the first time Japanese military planes had landed on Chinese soil since World War II---but the outcry from ordinary Chinese on the Internet was so intense the plan was scraped. South Korea and Singapore also sent rescuers. Indonesia sent medical supplies. Cuba sent medical teams. China even accepted aid from Taiwan.
China initially balked at foreign help. It put off requesting help from the international community for almost 72 hours---the threshold after which the survival rate of people buried alive starts to sharply decline. But then it opened its arms to international aid, especially tents and medical help. The earthquake and the government response to it won sympathy and praise for Beijing, offsetting somewhat criticism over the Tibet issue.
Secondary Disasters, Health Care and Disease After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
There were worries that heavy rains and aftershocks could set off secondary disasters such as floods, landslides, or mudslides, The earthquake was followed by heavy rains and more than 6,000 aftershocks in the first week alone. These destroyed and damaged more buildings, produced landslides and mudslides, and dammed rivers. A large aftershocks that measured 6.4 on the Richter scale that occurred about two weeks after the main quake killed eight people, injured 1,000 and destroyed or damaged 270,000 houses,
Some hospitals and health care facilities were destroyed. Others were damaged badly enough so they were unusable. Doctors, nurses and patients were among those that were killed in the collapsed Dujiangyan Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Medicines and equipment in that hospital were destroyed. Doctors that were uninjured were able to provide only rudimentary treatment. Severely injured were sent to hospitals in Chengdu. .
Functioning hospitals were packed. Many had tent cities outside of them filled with patients. Not everyone who needed care got it because of shortages of doctors, nurses, medicines and equipment and the inability of those who needed care to get to hospitals. There were reports of dozens of survivors developing gas gangrene---a bacteria infection that produces gas within muscle tissues and releases a horrible smell. ong odor.
Many rescued survivors suffered from crush syndrome, a serous medical condition in which muscle tissues subjected to crushing pressure for a long period of time break down, causing protein to flow into the blood, damaging the kidneys and eventually leading to kidney failure.
There were concerns of people drinking water contaminated with bacteria from the feces and urine of humans and farm animals and the outbreak of infectious diseases like measles and dysentery. Measles was a concern because the inoculation rate in the area was low. Garbage heaps attracted hordes of flies.
Survivors suffered from mental problems, dealing with the loss of loved ones and property, as well as physical problems. In a move that surprised many, teams of psychologists, counselors and volunteers were sent into to help, with particular attention focused on traumatized children.
The Water Resources Ministry said that 69 dams were damaged by the quake in central Sichuan Province and some were in danger of bursting. The Three Gorges dam was not damaged.
Quake-Produced Lakes After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Thirty five dangerous lakes were created by landslides that blocked rivers. In some many cases the natural dams created by the landslides were not very strong and there was a danger that the dam could collapse, releasing a torrent below the dam, sweeping away everything in its path. Matters were made worse by heavy rains that filled up the lakes at a faster rate than expected. Hundreds of thousands of survivors living down stream from these lakes were forced to evacuate. In 1933 an earthquake in the same area produces a massive landslide that creating an instant dam and large lake, Fifty years later part of the dam washed away in heavy rain and part of the lake was released.
Tangjiashan Lake is the largest of the quake-created lakes. Created by a huge landslide and located about three kilometers from the quake epicenter, it held a huge volume of water and for a while was rising at a. rate of almost two meters a day.
About 200,000 people living below Tangjiashan Lake, including all the residents in the villages of Jiuling and Qinglian, were evacuated About 150,000 people in the large town Mianyang were moved to higher ground or forced to leave completely. Another 1 million were told to prepare to leave. In some places soldiers made their point that people needed to get by spray painting lines on buildings that showed where waters would reach if the dam burst,
Relieving Pressure on the Quake Lakes
Soldiers were put to work digging channels to relieve pressure on the dams. If a lake overflows a dam there is a good chance the water will erode the earth and dam might collapsed. A channel helps relieve pressure on the dam and allows the water to ease out.
At Tangjiashan Lake bulldozers and earthmovers were dropped by helicopters and soldiers were sent in on foot, carrying 10 kilograms of explosives, to build a channel and create emergency escape paths in the event the dam burst. More than 600 troops spent six days, working around the clock, building a channel that was 500 meters long and 19 meters wide, meant to drain off water from the lake in a controlled manner. Once the channel at Tangjiashan was finished and opened, water gushed through the man-made sluices. But still water in the lake continued to rise so soldiers used anti-tank weapons and 82 millimeter recoilless guns to blast away rocks and muck to increase the flow of water and drain the lake so it no longer presented a threat.
By mid June the sluice was finished, draining more than half the 250 million cubic meters of water in Tanjianshan Lake in matter of a few hours. Water poured through the sluice, down, low-lying evacuated towns, where more than 200,000 once lived, easing the threat to 1 million residents further downstream. Muddy brown water from Tanjianshan Lake poured into evacuated Beichian center and seeped up the side streets. A Sichuan official called the sluice a “decisive victory.”
A smaller quake lake at Majingxiang burst its banks. Witnesses said that bodies of people killed in the earthquake shot out amid the the torrent of gravel and rock and sludge. A construction worker who working at the lake said, “We were releasing water through a manmade channel about two meters wide, but then it suddenly gave way and there was this roaring sound and we ran up the side of the hill.” No one was reported injured in the incident, which took place in an isolated valley
Protests After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Not everyone was please with the relief effort after the earthquake. One survivor who was forced to move from a camp near a river in Mianyang because of concerns about flooding told AP, “We were living near the river and the Mianyang officials got on TV and said the area was dangerous because of possible flooding and were we ordered to move here. They promised they’d take care of us, but we’ve been given no food, no tents.” Pointing to a structure made of tarps, he said, “I had to rig this myself. We’ve been eating instant noodles and bread we brought ourselves”.
In Dujiangyan about 2000 bereaved parents who lost children in the collapse of the Xin Jian Primary school staged a protest, saying the local government was responsible for approving shoddy construction work. Several hundred children are believed to have perished at the school when it collapsed. Protestors attacked tents used by local government officials. About 300 police were called in to restore order
Troublemakers After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Chinese bloggers attacked foreign firms like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola for not donating more money for earthquake relief even though Coca-Cola had donated over $1.1 million, including drinks, and McDonald’s donated about $1.5 million in cash and pledged to reconstruct schools.
There were reports of looting. One man had $70,000 worth of mobile phones taken from his ruined communication device shop. In Dujiangyan, 20 men and women suspected of looting were dressed in orange uniforms paraded in public on the back of a flat bed truck, Cultural revolution-style, in front of shelter housing about 1,000 quake refugees.
Two men were arrested after spreading a false rumor that an earthquake was going to occurred in 10 men’s, causing 400 girls to stampede out of a dormitory. The men worked for a property management company. The pretended to be government officials and said they made the phone calls to start the rumor at the dormitory because they were bored.
There were a number of scams, Crooks used text message services and website to seek donations for phony charities There used personal messages such, “Mom, Dad, I lost everything. Send money to my friend’s account.”
Sharon Stone was dropped a Chinese advertising campaign by Dior after she said the earthquake might have been the result of bad “karma” over the treatment of Tibet. Stone said in a statement, “Due to my inappropriate words and acts...I feel deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people. I am willing to take part in the relief work of China’s earthquake, and wholly devote myself to helping affected Chinese people.”
Corruption and the Sichuan Earthquake 2008
In February 2009 peasants in an earthquake-devastated village in Anxian County in Sichuan beat a village chief and clashed with police because they claimed they were cheated out of quake relief subsidies. One hundred police had to be called in to put down the riot.
A total of 15 Sichuan officials were fired and 13 others were disciplined for “doing nothing.” Among those fired was an official who was accused of failing to comfort victims and overcharged them for mineral water, soft drinks and toothpaste at the official’s family store.
Reconstruction After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Beijing announced three-year, $10 billion rebuilding effort for the earthquake devastated area. The effort would focus on improving roads and infrastructure and building new cities, towns and villages. The biggest challenge is providing housing for more than the 5 million left homeless. About 250,000 temporary houses were build within a month; 1 million within 2½ months. As of November 2008, more than 200,000 homes had been rebuilt, 685,000 were under reconstruction.
Buildings on the verge of collapse were brought down with explosives, Open-air schools were opened to reach children, Because of landslides, mudflows and dammed rivers reconstruction is expected to be more difficult than work before the earthquake.
Fifty potential radiation sources were affected by the earthquake. Thirty-five were secured in the first two weeks. Fifteen others took more time to reach and secure under the rubble. All nuclear sources were safe. China’s main nuclear weapons research laboratory was close to affected zone. There were no accidental releases of radioactive materials. The 50 radiation sources contained materials used in hospitals, industry and research.
Pollution created by the earthquake was another concern. Parts of a large fertilizer factory outside the city of Shifang were badly damaged. The smell of ammonia was quite strong a considerable distance from the plant. According to one Chinese newspaper ammonia and sulfuric acid leaked from the plant into a local river. A farmer said acid leaked into his field and turned his crops a funny color and made them inedible. In other areas oil slicks appeared in rivers
Debt and Reconstruction After the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008
Few people had any insurance.. By one estimate only 5 percent or the more than $20 billion in damage was covered. Millions of dollars of bad loans caused by the earthquake were written off as part of the effort to help victims. The move was aimed at relieving the debt burden to the region and to individuals. By one estimate $863 million in bad loans was created by the quake.
The overall effect of the earthquake on the national economy was minimal because the hardest hit places were in relatively remote areas. Power and water supplies for a large part of the stricken area were restored relatively quickly,
There as three-day period of mourning began a week after the quake. At 2:28, May 19, exactly a week aft the quake, the entire nation observed three minutes of silence, The Olympic torch was suspended for the three day period of mourning.
Refugee Camps After the Sichuan Earthquake 2008
According to government statistics, 878,000 urban households were relocated to 3,400 refugee camps. The government has promised rebuilding subsidies to 3.48 million rural families who lost heir homes.
Inside the tents the air was hot and fetid. Outside the earth paths between the tents were so muddy people made a sucking sound when they walked through the muck. There were foul smells in the air. Tents lacked electricity. Water was brought in by military vehicles.
Most of the refugee camp residents were elderly, children or women. People shared showers, toilets, sleeping spaces and meals. Kids seemed or have a good time riding bicycle and playing basketball. For many, though, there was often little to do but sit around and wait.
For the first three months after the quake survivor were given $1.50 a day to live off of. Many spent that money pretty quick. Some earned additional money by breaking apart pieces of concrete ruble and salvaging the metal inside and selling it for scrap for between 20 cents and 40 cents a kilogram. Bricks that were collected could be sold for about 10 cents a piece.
By early July, three-quarters of the Sichuan homeless had been moved to prefabricated shelters with gray Styrofoam-lined aluminum walls and concrete floors. In many places shops, schools, banks, police stations and government offices were all jammed into these gray boxes.
Quake victims in pre-fabricated housing were told they should expect to live in these conditions for three years until they received government financing to build new homes.
Rebuilding After the Sichuan Earthquake 2008
The earthquake zone was transformed into a massive construction site, with piles of bricks, steel rods and cement bags everywhere, Among those put to work first were those made homeless by the quake.
People seeking profits were out in full force. Cement mixers, bricks, and steel girders were sold in makeshift stands set up along major roads. The prices of bricks and cement tripled in the months after the quake. One man who was caught hacking into a red Cross website and asking earthquake relief donation to be sent his bank account was sentenced to two years in prison.
It was estimated that Sichuan would need $245 billion to rebuild. The costs include rebuilding or shoring up 4.5 million homes, 51,000 kilometers of highways, 5,500 kilometers of railway tracks, 11,700 schools, and 9,700 medical institutions. As of May 2011, China had spent $123 billion to rebuild areas affected by the 2008 earthquake. Nearly 3,000 schools and more than 1,200 health care facilities had been rebuilt or repaired , along with millions of houses.
An estimated $176 billion has been pledged by the Chinese government for reconstruction, $50 billion more than was spent on rebuilding New Orleans and other places in the United States devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The costs include building new homes for 3.5 million rural households, creating one million jobs, rebuilding 3,400 primary schools, strengthening 2,600 schools. The efforts is expected to take at least three years. Altogther it was estimated that $440 billion was spent on relief and reconstruction.
China is looking into buildings a nuclear power plant in the quake-hit area. The plant could be completed in as little s five years. The government said it will chose a site that is geologically sound. Other plan calls for developing the Tangjiashan Lake and other “quake lakes” into tourist spots and creating an “experimental tourist zone” that follows the earthquake fault line through Wenchuan County
Reconstruction in areas hit by the Sichuan earthquake was a major feature of the stimulus plan aimed at helping China recover from the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. By some estimates earthquake rebuilding will take up a forth of the $586 billion package. Economist say it is important that the money be spent wisely and not eaten away by corruption.
In July 2008, the devasted town of Beichuan was sealed off because of worries about epidemics and landslides. Even though the town was empty by that time over 600 security personal were deployed to make sure no one entered as summer heat increased the risk of disease from contaminated corpses still under the rubble. A 2.4-meter-high barbed wire fence was placed around the town to keep people out.
Describing Beuchuan in November 2008, Austin Ramzy wrote in Time, “Piles of red brick clutter the roadsides. Stacks of concrete drainage pipes fill parking lots. Newly resurfaced roads snake past rows of temporary housing while stores do a brisk trade in paint and window frames. Like countless places in China, this corner of central Sichuan is undergoing a building boom.”
The plan is turn the remains of Beichuan into a memorial park and build a new town from scratch. The Beichuan Commerce Department is trying o attract new businesses and industries. One plan is to bring in building materials companies that will develop earthquake-resistance housing part, produce them locally and then ship them around China and abroad.
“The scale of the physical reconstruction effort is staggering.” Brook Larmer wrote in the New York Times magazine. “Nearly every road, bridge, school and factory in the areas surrounding Beichuan has been rebuilt. An empty field 15 miles south has been transformed, in less than a year, into the new city, Eternal Prosperity, a vast grid of multistory buildings over which more than 70 building cranes hover like a swarm of gigantic insects.As Beichuan’s new county seat rises on the plains, the ghost town in the mountains is set to be turned into an earthquake museum. Chinese tourists already flock to the viewpoints above the town to gawk at the wreckage through binoculars (80 cents for five minutes) and buy gruesome photomontages---often from vendors with family members buried in the rubble.” [Source: Brook Larmer, New York Times, May 3, 2010]
“Capitalizing on this voyeuristic impulse is one part of Beichuan’s plan to become an internationally renowned travel destination. The other is to turn the Qiang ethnic minority into a tourist draw...Local authorities are reviving a version of Qiang culture, with Jina---the site of the mass remarriage ceremony---as its showpiece. Leveled by the earthquake, the stone village was entirely rebuilt in just seven months to become a Qiang-style theme park. The 69 families who live there wear festive Qiang costumes, dance to Qiang music and decorate every house with traditional emblems: corncobs, peppers, sheep skulls . . . and Chinese flags.” [Ibid]
A new industry was created: earthquake tourism. “The government’s emphasis on forging ahead is also a way of forgetting. A new site for Beichuan was announced in December 2008. It is 35 kilometers from the old town on flatter land in Anchang township. The first phase of rebuilding began in early 2009. The the cost of rebuilding new housing, schools government facilities, hospitals and other buildings and infrastructure is expected to be around $2.92 billion.
Two years after the quake, Beichuan was a ghost town encircled by razor wire and Chinese soldiers. Most survivors still lived in temporary housing, the blue-roofed aluminum cities that dot the earthquake zone. Some, moved to Anchang, which is serving as the county seat until construction is completed on a new one, which will be known as Yongchang, or Eternal Prosperity.
Beichuan Ruins to Become Museum
The crumpled ruins of Beichuan, the most seriously damaged major town in the Sichuan earthquake zone, are to be preserved and turned into a museum and memorial. Richard Spencer wrote in The Telegraph, “The local government wants it to become not just a place to remember the 8,600 dead of the town, almost half its population, but somewhere the Chinese people can learn to prevent similar disasters. After securing the town's collapsed and leaning homes, schools and office blocks, it wants to leave them as they are rather than demolishing them. [Source: Richard Spencer, The Telegraph , May 23, 2011]
Beichuan sits in a cleft in the mountains which rise up from the rice growing plains of Sichuan to the Tibetan plateau to the north. It was only built in 1951 - the town's original site was ironically considered too much of an earthquake risk. The valley also sits on the well-known Longmen or Dragon Gate seismic fault, which triggered the quake. In the aftermath of the quake, landslides from both sides of the sheer valley engulfed the two halves of the town.
Above the town, more landslides have formed a natural but unstable dam with a reservoir now grown to a quarter of a mile long, on the river about three miles away to the north. It is one of 34 similar "barrier lakes" formed across the region. Engineers are trying to decide which of several options to use to release the pressure before the dam bursts and floods the valley. Even if that danger is surmounted, it is now "certain" that Beichuan will never be rebuilt where it is, its party secretary Song Ming told state media. "It is impossible to rebuild the county seat at the original location or nearby," he said. A new location will probably be found on lower ground 12 miles away.
Mr Zhang said turning the town into a memorial would raise difficult questions about whether to seek to exhume the remaining hundreds of bodies from the wreckage. He said 80 per cent of the buildings in the old part of town and 60 per cent in the new part were flattened.
However, the plan was welcomed by some of the remaining residents. "It's so sad so many people died," said Mr Ling Kaishun, 54, who had just carried his 97-year-old father back to where his home once stood from a refugee camp. Like many of the people in the area, Mr Ling comes from the Qiang ethnic minority group to whom Beichuan county is the major home and who only number 300,000. Many of those have died. "This can be a remembrance of history," Mr Ling said. "We really should carry this plan out."
Pollution Threat from New Aluminum Plant
Survivors of the Sichuan earthquake complain they have become victims of pollution from an aluminum plant that has been hailed by the government as a symbol of reconstruction. Villagers near the factory in Wenchuan county --- the area worst hit by the disaster --- have told the Guardian their health and crops have been damaged by airborne “white flake” pollution that falls and then covers the soil. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, October 28, 2009]
The local government has put a priority on rebuilding the economy, partly through the more than five-fold expansion of the Aba Aluminium production line owned by Bosai Corporation --- one of Sichuan's biggest exporters. This provides much-needed jobs in the disaster area, but they come at a heavy environmental price, according to nearby residents who complain their harvests have collapsed because of contamination.
“The expansion of the aluminium factory has really affected our lives. I used to grow vegetables and walnuts, but the pollution has ruined the plants and trees,” a local woman told the Guardian by telephone. “The powder from the plant floats in the air, and leaves a coating of white sediment on the ground.” To boost the family income, she said her husband took a job in the factory but he had to leave after less than six months because a rash broke out over his body.
Many local residents work in the factory, which pays more than 1,000 yuan (£90) per month --- a reasonable income in rural China. But there may be hazards. “We work in bad conditions. The workshops are thick with dust,” said an employee. “The pollution became very bad after the expansion. I heard it is because the cleaning devices are not functioning properly.” The employee said his 100-tree orchard had failed to yield a harvest this year. Chinese conservationists say the bee population has also been badly affected.
President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao have visited the facility and encouraged the plant's managers to set an example of improved technology standards and efficiency. Falling aluminium prices and continued infrastructure problems have made this difficult. Local officials and factory executives insist the factory operates according to national standards. “The factory has passed its environmental impact assessment. Once its environment protection equipment operates, emissions will definitely meet standards,” said Yang Jian, the head of Wenchuan's environment protection bureau.
Image Sources: China-quake.com, Xinhua
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2010