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Asia

Fear of Afterquakes Wreaks Havoc

Over a week after the devastating earthquake hit China, killing thousands, the survivors still cannot relax. The authorities keep warning of heavy aftershocks. On Monday night, the government of Sichuan province posted a warning on its website that there was a high possibility there could be a strong quake, causing thousands to flee their homes. A quake of magnitude 5 later rocked the area close to the epicentre.

Soldiers remove dead bodies after devastating quake in Sichuan province

Soldiers remove dead bodies after devastating quake in Sichuan province

The public parks of the huge urban centres Chongqing and Chengdu were transformed into camping sites after seismologists warned of more aftershocks on Monday. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported quakes of magnitude six to seven on the Richter scale could occur. The same warning was posted on the Sichuan government’s website.

Chaos ensued as panicked residents fled their homes, the ARD correspondent Ariane Reimers, who is currently in the quake-hit zone, reported: “People are reacting with panic. They have all left their homes. Well to be precise, they have all left their homes in those cities where there are survivors.”

In the event, a quake of magnitude five occurred in the night, causing further damage near the epicentre of last week’s devastating earthquake, but leaving the cities of Chongqing and Chengdu unscathed.

5,000 aftershocks so far

Seismologists have counted well over 5,000 aftershocks since the initial devastating earthquake last week with 150 of them measuring over four on the Richter scale. These shocks have hindered the rescue operations, putting workers into danger as they crawl under rubble to seek survivors.

“If there were to be a heavy quake of 6.5,” explained Reimers. “The houses, which are already in a precarious state, would collapse. The mountains could also cave in. There would be serious consequences if there were another such quake.”

In the meantime, rescue workers are still trying to find survivors. On Tuesday, two men were pulled from the rubble in separate incidents -- one had survived by drinking sweetened water, the other by drinking his own urine. But such miracles are becoming increasingly less frequent.

Angry parents mourn children

Instead, the bodies are piling up. Those of children in particular. Thousands of schools collapsed in the quake. Parents are angry. They say that their children would not be dead if the schools had been better built.

“Building firms in rural areas don’t have the right technology or know-how for building earthquake-safe structures. I haven’t seen the plans of the destroyed homes so I can’t say for sure that the houses were badly built but I can’t rule out the possibility that the design was not carefully thought-through or that the building material was bad,” explained Shi Weixing, an expert in disaster-safe structural design.

The local authorities in Sichuan have started examining the buildings. They have said that punishment will be strict if companies violated building regulations. A council of experts is also being formed to advise on the future of the quake zone. One question will be whether to build at all along the earthquake belt of Sichuan province.

  • Date 20.05.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act) 19/05/08
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  • Date 20.05.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act) 19/05/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsMC