On Wednesday, 21st April, 2010, the whole of China mourned the lives lost in the Yushu earthquake. At 10 o'clock in the morning that day the people of Xining, the capital city of the Province of Qinghai, where Yushu was located, stood silence for three minutes. The government politburo, led by President Hu Jintao, at exactly the same time stood silence for 1 minute. Flags at government offices and the country's embassies were hoisted half mast. At that time I was in a city at Guangdong, I could feel the grief of the people.
The Yushu earthquake, at 7.1 magnitude, happened on Wednesday, 14th April. According to the official report, at 5 pm Thursday, 22nd April, the death toll of the quake amounted to 2187, while 87 people were still missing. It had also left 12,135 people injured, of whom 1434 were serious. This came at the heel of the Wenchuan, Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which claimed at least 68,000 lives. This quake is different from Wenchuan earthquake is that it was entirely a natural disaster. Whereas the Wenchuan earthquake was said to be exacerbated by the many illegal building structures in the city.
Learned from the Wenchuan experience, rescue efforts were immediately mobilised from virtually all over the country to this remote and isolated town, Yushu, which is located within the Tibetan Autonomous Perfecture. Premier Wen Jiabao, like in the Wenchuan earthquake, arrived at the affected area shortly after the quake to reinforce the rescue efforts. President Hu Jiantao, had to cut short his Latin American tour to return to the country to overlook the operation. Thanks to the rescuers' efforts, 1455 lives were saved, which efforts were commended by UNESCO. More importantly, the whole country shows that we love and care about the Tibetan minorities and they are part of our family. Further, we did not need the assistance from foreign countries for supplies as we did in the Wenchuan earthquake.
Meanwhile, donations are pouring in from people throughout the country. The charity gala at CCTV alone was said to have raised 2.2 billion yuan (about USD322 million). The money will be used to rebuild Yushu. In rebuilding the city, I think we have to learn from this disastrous experience. We have to build a place which can withstand earthquake. As everyone knows "prevention is the best strategy". We can look at the recent earthquake in Chile and see how the country mitigated the damages.
The February 2010 Chile earthquake
This earthquake happened off the coast of Chile at a 8.8 magnitude. It was strongly perceived by 80% of the country. The magnitude of the Chile quake was stronger than the one at Yushu, yet the death toll was only 487. Of course there are many different factors affecting the death toll and such comparison is meaningless as it is like comparing apples to oranges. What I like to point out is that, Chile had learned from their previous earthquake experiences, the last of which was in 1960 of 8.7 magnitude. It was said that Chile was well prepared for earthquakes as it has strict building codes and a robust emergency contingency plan. Further, it was said that the homes and offices of the countries were built to ride out quakes. An architect who helped countries hit by earthquakes said that even many of the countries' low income houses are resistant to seismic movements. Further, a commentator said "The fact that the Chilean president (Michelle Bachelet) was out giving minute-to-minute reports a few hours after the quake in the middle of the night gives you an indication of their disaster response."
I think what the Chinese authorities and the people have done are indeed commendable in the Yushu disaster. The government has already vowed to rebuild Yushu in five years. I think we should heed the Chilean example to build houses and offices with the earthquake in mind as there is no telling when another one would strike again (let's keep our fingers crossed, that won't happen). Further,the people living along the earthquake belt should be taught as to what to do in time of emergency of an earthquake. It is just like in Japan, where offices and schools undertake earthquake drilling from time to time. I was told that during an earthquake, taking shelter under a table might make a big difference. I saw this on television, when an earthquake struck Japan, for people inside a building, the first thing they did was to duck under a table until it is over. I think such drilling should be enforced in some regions of China