China Begins Yunnan Quake Clean-Up

The Financial Times reports on the relief effort in quake-stricken Yunnan where, as in Sichuan three years ago, damage appears to have been magnified by substandard construction.

China began cleaning up on Friday after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit the far southwestern province of Yunnan near the border with Burma, killing at least 25 people and injuring at least 250 others.

About 127,000 people were evacuated from the immediate area after 18,000 homes were destroyed and 50,000 others damaged, state media reported ….

Two four-story buildings, one containing a supermarket, collapsed on to their lower floors, crushing a number of people in the county seat of Yingjiang, near the epicentre.

Some experts expressed concern that so many structures had crumbled in the temblor, which most buildings should have been able to withstand had they been constructed according to the country’s building codes.

If building codes had been followed “or if they had made any conscious effort at all to strengthen the houses, then the houses should not have just collapsed like that,” Wang Yayong, a chief engineering adviser at the Chinese Academy of Building Research in Beijing, told the Associated Press.

Xinhua, on the other hand, focuses on rescue efforts:

Many soldiers used their hands to dig through the rubble as machines could not be operated there.

More than 6,100 people, including soldiers, police officers, medical staff, and civilians, have participated in the rescue operation, saving at least 40 trapped people and sending more than 200 injured people to hospital.

The county needs 5,000 more tents for the homeless, said Zhao Jin, Party chief of Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture of Dehong, which administers Yingjiang.

Zhao said he had asked the provincial government for help.

The provincial and local governments have earmarked 23 million yuan (3.49 million U.S. dollars) in emergency aid to the quake-hit regions.

“We are now short of disinfectant, crucial for the post-quake epidemic prevention work,” said Zhang Tao, president of the People’s Hospital of Yingjiang.

As with the recent evacuation of Chinese citizens from Libya, and in addition to the obvious humanitarian concerns, authorities will be keen to mount a visibly effective response to demonstrate their ability to look after the people. As Austin Ramzy wrote in Time after last year’s Qinghai quake:

In the past, the government’s first response would more likely have been to downplay the extent of the disaster, as it initially did with the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which killed 242,000, or more recently during the 2003 SARS outbreak. But in recent years, Beijing has emphasized a robust and more open approach to disaster management. “Crisis response has entered the set of things expected from government,” says Björn Conrad, a researcher with the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute. “That’s what you have to do to maintain legitimacy.”

Large-scale relief efforts are more eye-catching than the unglamorous enforcement of building regulations. Nevertheless, the extent to which Japan’s painstakingly earthquake-hardened buildings and infrastructure managed to withstand a quake more than 22 times stronger than the one in Sichuan has not gone unnoticed.

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