Monday, May 19, 2008

Telegraph (UK): China earthquake: Mudslides bury 200 relief workers

China earthquake: Mudslides bury 200 relief workers

On Monday, May 12 an earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan Province in China. It is feared some 70,000 dead and unknown numbers made homeless by this. Sichuan province is in the central part of China (Google imagery) (KML) , and the region is very mountainous, making access difficult in normal times, and downright treacherous during periods of geological instability as roads, bridges, and infrastructure are damaged to an unknown extent. The damage and difficulty is difficult to imagine, especially for westerners. The biggest events for Americans to compare to are the 2001 World Trade Center attack and 2005 Hurricane Katrina. But each of these only had a few thousand dead. The scale of the China earthquake and the Mynmar cyclone is beyond scale.

The China earthquake is remarkable for the government response. The free flow of information, in fact Sichuan province's openness with disseminating accurate information is amazing for a generally suspicious and paranoid government. The publicized punishment of a few local and regional party officials who made attempts to hide issues is another sign that this is being handled very differently then SARS and Harbin, which is a sign of lessons were observed, and even learned. Another notable response was the bringing in outsiders, in this case Japanese and Taiwanese disaster response and relief teams (I believe they were the national Red Cross societies and the Tzu Chi Foundation) were allowed in the country to assist with rescue and relief. The contrast with previous disasters, or especially the current Myanmar regieme is striking, and encouraging.

There is difficult work ahead. Many areas have yet to be reached, a difficulty remeniscient of the difficulty in reaching parts of the Louisiana Bayou after all roads were destroyed in 2005. Large populations are without infrastructure, including shelter, water and sanitation facilities. Disease becomes a major issue. And, in a mountainous area, roads and the very geography is unstable (see Visualizing China's Sichuan Earthquake in Google Earth blog). It is a serious business, underscored by reports of 200+ relief workers feard dead in landslides and other events. The United States Coast Guard has an unofficial motto "you have to go out, but you don't have to come back." The more sober of us realize that if the situation was not somewhat dangerous, we would not be there in the first place. And for all the others still at work, godspeed and stay safe.
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