Life on the rebound in the two regions struck by earthquakes
By Wang Hairong  ·  2021-05-31  ·   Source: NO.22 JUNE 3, 2021
A rescue worker talks with primary school students in Maduo, a county in Qinghai Province, on May 25 (XINHUA)

In Chenjia Village in Yunnan Province, about a dozen women were busy cooking at a temporary camp, washing and chopping up vegetables, stir-frying them in a pot on a small pile of charcoal while rice simmered in another pot.

They were preparing lunch for the entire village that had moved to the site after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the area on the night of May 21. There were 15 tents altogether for a total of 67 residents, with one tent for each household. Soon, lunch was ready, cooked with rice, oil and other ingredients provided by the government as relief measures.

The government has not only set up tents and provided makeshift beds and quilts for each family, but also sent foodstuffs, drinking water and other daily necessities, 68-year-old Luo Zhihong, one of the villagers, said.

Chenjia, situated at the epicenter of the quake, saw most of its houses damaged while some had entirely collapsed.

Two in a row 

Tremors began to jolt Yangbi Yi Autonomous County where Chenjia is located, about three days before the May 21 quake alarmed people across the country. There were fears about bigger quakes and sure enough, about four hours later, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit Qinghai Province in the northwest early on May 22. The epicenter was Maduo County in the Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It was the largest jolt in China since an 8-magnitude earthquake devastated Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province in 2008.

However, since both the epicenters in Yunnan and Qinghai were sparsely populated, neither quake caused heavy casualties.

The Yangbi earthquake had led to three deaths and 32 injuries, according to Shi Shangkun, a health official of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, which administers Yangbi. One died after a falling rock from the mountainside hit his truck, and the other two suffered injuries or a heart attack while trying to flee from danger during the tremor.

Some 190 houses had collapsed in the county, and 13,090 houses had been damaged, media reports said, quoting Yangbi's earthquake relief headquarters. Some public infrastructures like reservoirs and bridges were also damaged.

A resident of Pingdi Village in Yangbi told the press that when the quake struck, his family of 10 had not gone to bed yet. When they saw the roof beams swaying, they ran out of the house, just before the two-story building made of wood and earth collapsed.

The earthquake in Qinghai, though more powerful, caused no death. It injured 18 and disrupted the lives of over 32,000 residents in Golog and Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, but by May 24, 17 of those injured had been treated and discharged from hospital, according to Li Jun, an official with the provincial department of emergency management, at a press conference. 

The quake damaged infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges. More than 200 bridges were ruined, according to Qinghai's transport department.

Improved housing conditions—one outcome of local poverty alleviation efforts—very probably minimized casualties and asset losses in the quake-affected areas in Qinghai, Xinhua News Agency reported. Between 2016 and 2017, more than 1,500 impoverished households in Maduo moved into new homes as part of a relocation program. The new brick and concrete houses can withstand an 8-magnitude earthquake.

A woman cooks at a temporary camp for earthquake-affected residents in Chenjia Village, Yunnan Province, on May 24 (XINHUA)

Rescue and relief 

Emergency rescue and relief work quickly started. The office of the earthquake response and relief headquarters under the State Council dispatched 10 work groups to the disaster-stricken regions to coordinate emergency rescue and relief as well as infrastructure restoration and hazard investigation.

The Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM), Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Ministry of Water Resources and National Health Commission oversaw the groups' work.

Due to continuing aftershocks, residents in both areas were living in shelters. In Yangbi, a video released by Xinhua News Agency showed third-year high school students resuming class in tents.

The water supply facilities damaged by the earthquake was repaired and water supply was basically restored, Yunnan's department of water resources said on May 24.

In Maduo, students have also resumed their classes in tents since May 24, and power supply and communication services have been restored amid extensive relief efforts. All the national and provincial trunk roads leading to the area have been reopened, with makeshift bridges.

Knowledge and awareness 

The two big earthquakes close on the heels of each other have left many wondering what caused them and whether they forecast even more powerful seismic events.

According to seismological experts, in general, earthquakes on the Chinese mainland are caused by the Indo-Australian Plate or the Pacific Plate colliding with the Eurasian Plate. Due to their frequent collisions, strong earthquakes are a regular occurrence on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and its surrounding areas.

The China Earthquake Network Center, which monitors and releases earthquake information on its website, has organized experts to analyze the quakes.

Xu Xiwei, head of the National Institute of Natural Hazards under the MEM, pointed out that the Maduo earthquake occurred on an active fault inside the Bayan Har Block, a tectonic block that mainly moves eastward, whereas the Yangbi earthquake occurred in the Sichuan-Yunnan Block, basically moving southward. Hence they are separate earthquakes, he said.

Seismologists think there is little likelihood of a stronger earthquake occurring in the jolted areas of Maduo and Yangbi in the near future, Beijing-based Guangming Daily reported. The paper quoted statistics from the China Earthquake Administration that showed on average, there are four earthquakes above 6 magnitude and 0.6 above 7 magnitude in the Chinese mainland every year.

Some devastating earthquakes in history have left lasting painful memories. After the Wenchuan earthquake claimed about 80,000 lives, the government designated May 12 as National Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day. This year, the event was marked with disaster preparedness activities such as earthquake drills.

In recent years, China has made considerable progress in disaster prevention and response. Official statistics released at a press conference on May 7 showed that from 2018 to 2020, the number of people killed and missing due to natural disasters decreased by more than 30 percent from the average between 2015 and 2017.

(Print Edition Title: Bouncing Back to Normal) 

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar 

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