Sichuan Earthquake: How Did the State Deal with It
13 years ago in China, in the Sichuan province, one of the most powerful earthquakes occurred. Sichuan earthquake facts: what were the consequences of the great Wenchuan earthquake and how it influenced the demographic policy of the PRC
On May 12, 2008 a Sichuan earthquake hit the Chinese province. The magnitude of the Sichuan earthquake was 7.9 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of the earthquake was 90 kilometers from the provincial capital, Chengdu. Repeated tremors were felt in Beijing, located 1,500 km from the epicenter, as well as in neighboring countries. In Shanghai (1,700 km), office buildings were shaking, employees ran out into the streets in panic, and the evacuation began.
As a result, the Sichuan earthquake killed about 70 thousand people, more than 370 thousand were injured.
5.36 million buildings were destroyed, over 21 million were damaged. Millions of people in China were left homeless. The total economic damage from the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 was estimated at US $86 billion.
The Wenchuan earthquake became the strongest in China after the Tangshan earthquake, which claimed about 250 thousand lives in 1976.
“We cannot sleep. We are afraid of an earthquake, we are afraid of shaking”, said one of the victims of the Wenchuan earthquake, who ended up in the hospital with her elderly mother.
“I felt that the floor seemed to be moving, everyone rushed out in panic”, said another eyewitness who was in the restaurant at the time of the earthquake. “The streets were filled with people who left the buildings.”
“I didn’t know what was going on because I had never encountered such a thing before. My ex-husband suddenly grabbed my hand, and we ran, and the next second a lot of debris fell on me”, recalled a woman who spent more than 10 hours in the ruins of a collapsed building and lost both legs after the Sichuan earthquake in China.
As a result of the earthquake, over 18,000 families lost their children (mainly in collapsed school buildings), so the Chinese government allowed them to have another child – at that time, the policy of “one family – one child” was canceled in 2016.
After the Sichuan province earthquake, people continued to die. Landslides bombarded rescuers and workers trying to repair roads in the hardest-hit areas. The roads were clogged with cars, people left homeless spent the night on the streets and in parks.
Due to landslides, a lot of water has accumulated near the dams. The Zipingpu Power Plant Dam is the largest of its kind in the province, reaching a height of approximately 150 m. The tremors caused deep cracks in the structure.
If there was a breakthrough, the water could destroy the whole city of Dujiangyan.
In addition, the sluice and power generating systems were damaged at the station.
The threat of a dam break was averted with the help of emergency measures taken by the authorities. Nearly 2,000 soldiers were involved in repairs. In addition, it was necessary to reduce the pressure on the structure, in connection with which measures were taken to reduce the water level in the storage facility.
The misadventures did not end there – two months later, rains fell on Sichuan, which caused 50 landslides, destroyed more than 200 buildings and damaged roads. In total, the rains in the province affected 300 thousand people. In the city of Mianyang alone, the economic damage from the disaster amounted to almost $18 million.
Residual aftershocks continued for several more months, in total seismologists counted more than 10 thousand aftershocks.
There Were Also Conflicts
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has accused officials that many schools in the region were erected without complying with the norms for earthquake-prone regions.
He also conducted his investigation into the circumstances of the incident and published on his blog the names of the deceased children that were not included in the official statistics and information about corruption in the construction business. In the fall of 2009, the most striking work of the artist’s retrospective, which opened at the Munich House of Art, was a huge installation he created, made up of 9000 school backpacks, folded into the phrase of one of the mothers whose daughter died in an earthquake: “She lived happily seven years in this world”.
In September 2009, Ai Weiwei was seriously injured by the actions of the Chinese police: who tried to break into the courtroom and testify in favor of one of the human rights defenders, the artist was beaten, after which he underwent an emergency operation to remove an intracranial hematoma.
In addition to the natural causes of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 (movement of lithospheric plates), it was suggested that the earthquake could be caused or aggravated artificially and that a huge dam, located 5 km from the epicenter, served as the catalyst. A significant volume of water could have put pressure on the structure, enough to affect the condition of the rocks – cracks could have formed that spread 500m deep into the earth before a geological fault. Water could penetrate the cracks and exert a corresponding influence on its pressure. The Chinese authorities, however, did not accept this version.
Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 Facts on Losses and Further Recovery of the Affected Area
The Chinese government estimated the losses from the earthquake at more than $150 billion – three times more than it took to prepare Beijing for the Olympic Games. It was to provide new homes to 3.9 million victims, rebuild schools, restore factories and office buildings. In addition, it was necessary to strengthen the existing structures and make them more resistant to tremors.
“We will renovate public buildings such as schools and hospitals and turn them into safe and durable structures where people can feel protected,” said the project developed by the National Development and Reform Commission.
The plan called for the construction of 169 hospitals and 4,432 schools to replace the destroyed ones and the reconstruction of 2,600 schools. In total, according to the commission’s estimates, it took about eight years to get life back on track in the provinces.
Other countries also helped China to recover. In particular, the Taiwan Red Cross Society in seven cities and counties of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces helped restore 43 schools, 43 hospitals, and one rehabilitation center for the disabled, as well as provided material assistance to students and took care of the health of the elderly and children. Taiwan’s Sichuan Earthquake Relief Project was completed on March 2, 2016.
A week after the 2008 Sichuan China earthquake, the people of China froze in silence for three minutes as a sign of mourning. Millions of cars stopped, townspeople, rescuers, police officers all bowed their heads to honor the memory of the victims.
The Earthquake Struck Just Weeks before the Beijing Olympics
The 2008 Olympic torch relay was suspended in memory of the people killed in the disaster, and schoolboy Lin Hao, who rescued two of his comrades from the rubble after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, won the right to carry the Chinese flag at the opening ceremony of the home Olympic Games along with the legend Chinese basketball Yao Ming.