Grief in the Rubble
May 25, 2008 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Crumbled. "A staggering number of students died as schools collapsed in the May 12 earthquake, and grieving parents are speaking out about shoddy construction."
posted by homunculus (24 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Geez, that photo showing the largely undamaged building standing next to what is now just a pile of rubble is pretty damning.
posted by maxwelton at 12:39 AM on May 25, 2008

This is gripping, heartrending, horrible. The story of the man who amputated the leg (pinned under concrete) of a young girl, on the spot, with his knife, knowing it was the leg or her life... good god.

Wouldn't it be great if the government now just up and said "fuck the Olympics, we need to focus on this. We need to spend money, time and energy on this". That would be something.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:07 AM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Strong earthquakes of occur several times per year around the world (3 in 2007 had magnitude 8 like this one, many more had magnitude 7). So in-fact almost all deaths should be attributed to corruption among province officials who had duties involving building codes, the exceptions are basically landslide victims.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:51 AM on May 25, 2008

The first person to make a joke about quality control is an asshole. Or dead on. Honestly, I don't know which. Poor kids.
posted by sourwookie at 2:29 AM on May 25, 2008

During the recent earthquake, it was reported that 6,000 school buildings collapsed and untold number of school children perished. But at Zhengjia Haiyuan village only fifteen kilometers away from Beichuan, there was an excerption. On May 17, a netizen posted an essay titled "The most awesome Project Hope school in history" in which he wrote: "During the Wenchuan earthquake, many school children were taken by surprise and buried underneath the collapsed buildings. But a Project Hope school building only 15 minutes in the hills outside Beichuan county town survived the strong earthquake. Not only did the building stay intact, but all 483 students and the teaching staff were evacuated safely."
Quoted from Roland Soong's EastSouthWestNorth (scroll down about a fifth of the page to get to the article) - a revealing essay about a school that didn't fall down and the reasons why.
posted by awfurby at 2:38 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Money for the Olympics does not probably translate into money for schools. One assumes schools in China are built by local authorities and that Chinese people don't like to pay property tax any more than Americans do and that this rather than corruption or incompetence is the real reason these students were crushed to a slow death.

The local governments probably just don't have the coin to do better, but perhaps this will change.
posted by three blind mice at 2:41 AM on May 25, 2008

In Italy we suffered a similard scandal when a school collapsed in the city of San Giuliano, Puglia,Italy because of a rather significant earthquake that left all the other buildings barely if at all damaged. A judge aquitted all of the six indicted person, allegedly responsible for the collapse as the school, as he found that the collapse was caused by an instric fragility of the school that was poorly built and didn't respect building codes to begin with ; the responsability goes to the quake itself and not to the persons who altered the structure of the school by adding one additional floor.

But what were the students doing in a bulding that lacked proper stability test and certification? Why wasn't that lack noticed by the city Major, who also lost a children in the accident?

It seems that billions can be spent on building up expensive security theatres that are supposed to protect us from few likely threats and a billion unlikely ones, yet the money needed to maintain infrastructure and avoid such tragedies is nowhere to be found.
posted by elpapacito at 2:48 AM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

There was a report on the BBC were in one town only a single building collapsed... the school. And everyone was talking corruption.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:12 AM on May 25, 2008

If I recall, didn't something similar occur in the earthquake in Western Turkey a few years ago? It is so sad.
posted by DenOfSizer at 8:52 AM on May 25, 2008

There are plenty of US schools that would also fail -- just look at Oregon.

Remember this the next time a politician says "nothing is more important than our children" -- because it means they're lying through their teeth. Judging from spending priorities, just about everything is more important.
posted by aramaic at 9:43 AM on May 25, 2008

The problem with minimum bid approach to public structures is clearly occuring here and is something that is familiar to structural engineers in our history. In california in 1933 an earthquake destroyed soo many school buildings (luckily without students inside) that they passed the field act requiring all schools to be designed for earthquake resistance. Then again, in 1933 structural engineering was still relatively young and seismic design was simplistic (if performed at all).

The tragedy as i see it here is clearly one of lack of funding/corruption leading to what should not be possible in a sane world. Structural failures are relatively rare during non-extreme events because structures are generally conservatively designed (materials are stronger than spec'd, methodologies under-predict strength, and secondary effects may be ignored (such as confinement of concrete assuming proper detailing of design)). In order to have a catastrophic failure of the structure you need to have several things go wrong, in this case you have 1) low strength/bad mix concrete 2) improper detailing (probably no shear ties/confinement of columns and lateral ties of the walls to the precast slabs. In seismic events the detailing of the structure is critical, the concept of producing a structure which allows for large movement without sudden loss of strength (bend not break (though maybe more appropriate is creak not snap)) must be adhered to. Of course, this is not knowledge that is unavailable to the builders in china, it has been developed over time and the engineers are fully aware of what is required. However, the cost of building a structure in a siesmic zone is 10-20% higher than a similar structure in a non-seismic zone. Therefore, what i suspect happened is that the building was constructed by a contractor with no real engineering oversight.

in the Hammurabi code if you build a house and don't construct it properly then you are put to death. Usually i would argue that constructing it properly is a vague terminology which shouldn't be applicable (some people argue that the twin towers were poorly designed, which i think is way wrong), but in this case i have no issues with the oldest code of all being applied
posted by NGnerd at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2008

I blame the schools.
posted by jonmc at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

This doesn't seem appreciably different than the recent incidents involving toxic substitutions in medical ingredients and lead-based paint in toys. The Chinese seem to be at the point in capitalist development, similar the late 1800s and early 1900s in the US, where people understand the mechanisms of profit but haven't yet gotten around to that whole 'ethics' thing.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 11:12 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

How can they? You have whole generations who grew up with the affect effects of the Cultural Revolution. A lot of people were (and still are) just trying to get by, nevermind a proper education.
posted by tksh at 11:42 AM on May 25, 2008

I toured the USGS facility in Menlo Park, CA earlier this year and snapped this photo. Here's the text from their self guided tour [PDF] on page 10:

"Take a moment to look around on the other side of the granite slab and notice the steel bracings on Buildings 1 and 2. These braces were added to the buildings in 1979 as structural reinforcement to reduce the effects of ground shaking during an earthquake. During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the bracings proved their worth as neither building suffered any serious damage."

The Loma Prieta earthquake is the one during the World Series with the freeway damage, which was 65 miles from the epicenter. Menlo Park is about 50 miles.
posted by jwells at 4:31 PM on May 25, 2008

A further note - in the South China Morning Post today, a columnist named Wang Xiangwei wrote about the contrast between money spent on glitzy new buildings for the Olympics and what China spends on education each year. One figure that caught my eye was spending on education this year should reach RMB156.2 billion yuan. By contrast Chinese government officials (at all levels of goverment) annually spend 300 billion yuan on entertaining (banquets etc), 300 billion yuan on vehicle use and 250 billion yuan on government sponsored domestic and overseas travel. Nice work if you can get it.
posted by awfurby at 6:38 PM on May 25, 2008

It's important to note that while some of this criticism is being heard in China, it's often being suppressed. Reports have it that Guo Quan, an outspoken political activist, was just arrested for releasing a couple of reports online asking for safety assessments. He's got a history of politically-motivated arrests, so it might just be more of the same... There's also a woman who was arrested for posting a critical video on a Chinese video sharing website, but I can't find any English-language mentions of that.

And the country sure is falling all over itself to praise its own response. Television here has been a constant stream of dramatic featurettes with tragic footage, majestic (or sappy pop) music, and statistics about the swiftness of the response, the amount of money donated, and the number of people involved in the rescue. That's not to say that some of this praise isn't deserved. There's been a huge outpouring of public and private money from all corners of the country, for instance. Thousands and thousands of people in need are receiving assistance and will continue to do so. The government (and high officials within the government) went into action a lot faster than, say, the US's response to Hurricane Katrina.

On the subject of government overspending, there's a great article by the NYTimes about government officials and alcohol spending and consumption at lunch. As the article states, Xinyang, a city of 7 million, saved USD$6 million in 6 months by forbidding government workers from buying alcohol at lunch.
posted by msbrauer at 9:13 PM on May 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's also a woman who was arrested for posting a critical video on a Chinese video sharing website, but I can't find any English-language mentions of that. - Here's one.
posted by whatzit at 5:59 AM on May 26, 2008

China's grieving parents
posted by homunculus at 12:42 AM on June 4, 2008

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