|Date||May 12, 2008 (2008-05-12)|
|Origin time||14:28:01 CST|
|Magnitude||8.0 Ms/7.9 Mw|
|Depth||19 kilometres (12 mi)|
|Epicenter||31°01′16″N103°22′01″E / 31.021°N 103.367°E / 31.021; 103.367 (Sichuan earthquake) (Yingxiu, Wenchuan County, Ngawa Prefecture, Sichuan)|
|Total damage||$150 billion USD|
|Max. intensity||XI MM/CSIS|
149 to 284 majorover 42,719 total
87,587  (20th deadliest earthquake of all time)
(as of September 22, 2008 18:18 CST)
The 2008 Sichuan earthquake (Chinese: 汶川大地震; pinyin: Wènchuān dà dìzhèn; literally: "Great Wenchuan earthquake"), also known as the FirstGreat Sichuan earthquake or Wenchuan earthquake, occurred at 14:28:01 China Standard Time on May 12, 2008. Measuring at 8.0 Ms, the earthquake's epicenter was located 80 kilometres (50 mi) west-northwest of Chengdu, the provincial capital, with a focal depth of 19 km (12 mi). The earthquake was also felt in nearby countries and as far away as both Beijing and Shanghai—1,500 km (930 mi) and 1,700 km (1,060 mi) away—where office buildings swayed with the tremor. Strong aftershocks, some exceeding 6 Ms, continued to hit the area up to several months after the main quake, causing further casualties and damage.
Over 69,000 people lost their lives in the quake, including 68,636 in Sichuan province. 374,176 were reported injured, with 18,222 listed as missing as of July 2008. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, though the number could be as high as 11 million. Approximately 15 million people lived in the affected area. It was the deadliest earthquake to hit China since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which killed at least 240,000 people, and the strongest in the country since the 1950 Chayu earthquake, which registered at 8.5 on the Richter magnitude scale. It is the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time. On November 6, 2008, the central government announced that it would spend 1 trillion RMB (about US $146.5 billion) over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake, as part of the Chinese economic stimulus program.
According to a study by the China Earthquake Administration (CEA), the earthquake occurred along the Longmenshan Fault, a thrust structure along the border of the Indo-Australian Plate and Eurasian Plate. Seismic activities concentrated on its mid-fracture (known as Yingxiu-Beichuan fracture). The rupture lasted close to 120 seconds, with the majority of energy released in the first 80 seconds. Starting from Wenchuan, the rupture propagated at an average speed of 3.1 kilometers per second 49° toward north east, rupturing a total of about 300 km. Maximum displacement amounted to 9 meters. The focus was deeper than 10 km.
In a United States Geological Survey (USGS) study, preliminary rupture models of the earthquake indicated displacement of up to 9 meters along a fault approximately 240 km long by 20 km deep. The earthquake generated deformations of the surface greater than 3 meters and increased the stress (and probability of occurrence of future events) at the northeastern and southwestern ends of the fault. On May 20, USGS seismologist Tom Parsons warned that there is "high risk" of a major M>7 aftershock over the next weeks or months.
Japanese seismologist Yuji Yagi at the University of Tsukuba said that the earthquake occurred in two stages: "The 250-kilometre (155 mi) Longmenshan Fault tore in two sections, the first one ripping about 6.5 metres (7 yd) followed by a second one that sheared 3.5 metres (4 yd)." His data also showed that the earthquake lasted about two minutes and released 30 times the energy of the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 in Japan, which killed over 6,000 people. He pointed out that the shallowness of the epicenter and the density of population greatly increased the severity of the earthquake. Teruyuki Kato, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo, said that the seismic waves of the quake traveled a long distance without losing their power because of the firmness of the terrain in central China. According to reports from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, the earthquake tremors lasted for "about two or three minutes".
The extent of the earthquake and after shock-affected areas lying north-east, along the Longmen Shan fault.
The Longmen Shan Fault System is situated in the eastern border of the Tibetan Plateau and contains several faults. This earthquake ruptured at least two imbricate structures in Longmen Shan Fault System, i.e. the Beichuan Fault and the Guanxian–Anxian Fault. In the epicentral area, the average slip in Beichuan Fault was about 3.5 metres (11 ft) vertical, 3.5 metres (11 ft) horizontal-parallel to the fault, and 4.8 metres (16 ft) horizontal-perpendicular to the fault. In the area about 30 kilometres (19 mi) northeast of the epicenter, the surface slip on Beichuan Fault was almost purely dextral strike-slip up to about 3 metres (9.8 ft), while the average slip in Guanxian–Anxian Fault was about 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) vertical and 2.3 metres (7 ft 7 in) horizontal.
According to CEA:
"The energy source of the Wenchuan earthquake and Longmenshan's southeast push came from the strike of the Indian Plate onto the Eurasian Plate and its northward push. The inter-plate relative motion caused large scale structural deformation inside the Asian continent, resulting in a thinning crust of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the uplift of its landscape and an eastward extrude. Near the Sichuan Basin, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau's east-northward movement meets with strong resistance from the South China Block, causing a high degree of stress accumulation in the Longmenshan thrust formation. This finally caused a sudden dislocation in the Yingxiu-Beichuan fracture, leading to the violent earthquake of Ms 8.0."
According to the United States Geological Survey:
The earthquake occurred as the result of motion on a northeast striking reverse fault or thrust fault on the northwestern margin of the Sichuan Basin. The earthquake’s epicenter and focal-mechanism are consistent with it having occurred as the result of movement on the Longmenshan Fault or a tectonically related fault. The earthquake reflects tectonic stresses resulting from the convergence of crustal material slowly moving from the high Tibetan Plateau, to the west, against strong crust underlying the Sichuan Basin and southeastern China.
On a continental scale, the seismicity of central and eastern Asia is a result of northward convergence of the Indian Plate against the Eurasian Plate with a velocity of about 50 mm/y. The convergence of the two plates is broadly accommodated by the uplift of the Asian highlands and by the motion of crustal material to the east away from the uplifted Tibetan Plateau. The northwestern margin of the Sichuan Basin has previously experienced destructive earthquakes. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake of August 25, 1933, killed more than 9,300 people.
According to the British Geological Survey:
The earthquake occurred 92 km northwest of the city of Chengdu in eastern Sichuan province and over 1500 km from Beijing, where it was also strongly felt. Earthquakes of this size have the potential to cause extensive damage and loss of life.
The epicenter was in the mountains of the Eastern Margin of Qing-Tibet Plateau at the northwest margin of the Sichuan Basin. The earthquake occurred as a result of motion on a northeast striking thrust fault that runs along the margin of the basin.The seismicity of central and eastern Asia is caused by the northward movement of the India plate at a rate of 5 cm/year and its collision with Eurasia, resulting in the uplift of the Himalaya and Tibetan plateaux and associated earthquake activity. This deformation also results in the extrusion of crustal material from the high Tibetan Plateaux in the west towards the Sichuan Basin and southeastern China. China frequently suffers large and deadly earthquakes. In August 1933, the magnitude 7.5 Diexi earthquake, about 90 km northeast of today's earthquake, destroyed the town of Diexi and surrounding villages, and caused many landslides, some of which dammed the rivers.
Intensities and damage area
The map of earthquake intensity published by CEA after surveying 500,000 km2 of the affected area shows a maximum liedu of XI on the China Seismic Intensity Scale (CSIS), described as "very destructive" on the European Macroseismic Scale (EMS) from which CSIS drew reference. (USGS, using the Modified Mercalli intensity scale (CC), also placed maximum intensity at XI, "extreme".) Two south-west-north-east stripes of liedu XI are centered around Yingxiu, Wenchuan (the town closest to the epicenter of the main quake) and Beichuan (the town repeatedly struck by strong aftershocks including one registering Ms 6.1 on Aug 1, 2008), both in Sichuan Province, occupying a total of 2,419 km2. The Yingxiu liedu-XI zone is about 66 km long and 20 km wide along Wenchuan–Dujiangyan–Pengzhou; the Beichuan liedu-XI zone is about 82 km long and 15 km wide along An County–Beichuan–Pingwu. The area with liedu X (comparable to X on EMS, "destructive" and X on MM, "disastrous") spans 3,144 km2. The area affected by earthquakes exceeding liedu VI totals 440,442 km2, occupying an oval 936 km long and 596 km wide, spanning three provinces and one autonomous region.
QLARM (Quake Loss Alarms for Response and Mitigation) issues near-real-time estimates of fatalities and number of injured for earthquakes worldwide. Recent alerts can be found on the web page of the International Institute for Earth Simulation Foundation http://www.icesfoundation.org/Pages/QlarmEventList.aspx. Such an alert was issued 21 minutes after the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake of 2008. It had at first been assigned M7.5, internationally. This initial underestimate of the magnitude is a known problem with earthquakes of M8 and larger. Based on the M7.5 information, QLARM distributed an email to about 300 recipients estimating that 1,000 to 4,000 fatalities had occurred. After learning that the earthquake may measure M8, QLARM distributed a revised estimate of 40,000 to 100,000 fatalities. This information was distributed within 100 minutes of the Wenchuan earthquake.
The news and official reports of fatalities are often strongly misleading. After the Wenchuan earthquake, officials led the public to believe for more than a week that the fatalities numbered only a fraction of what they really were (Figure 1). At the very beginning, everyone expects the news reports to be an initial count that will grow, not however, after one week. After such a long time, the false news reports take on a reality in their own right and the theoretical loss calculations by experts are discarded.
Once the extent of the rupture of the Wenchuan earthquake became known, QLARM calculated a more detail picture of the losses. Figure 2 shows a map of the expected mean damage of the settlements affected by the Wenchuan earthquake on a scale of 5. The resistance to shaking of buildings in large cities is assumed to be stronger than in villages, therefore the damage and percentage of fatalities in large cities is less than in villages.
Main article: List of 2008 Sichuan earthquake aftershocks
Between 64 and 104 major aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from 4.0 to 6.1, were recorded within 72 hours of the main quake. According to Chinese official counts, "by 12:00 CST, November 6, 2008, there had been 42,719 total aftershocks, of which 246 ranged from 4.0 MS to 4.9 MS, 34 from 5.0 MS to 5.9 MS, and 8 from 6.0 Ms to 6.4 MS; the strongest aftershock measured 6.4 MS." The latest aftershock exceeding M6 occurred on August 5, 2008.
(The Ms 6.1 earthquake on August 30, 2008, in southern Sichuan was not part of this series because it was caused by a different fault. See 2008 Panzhihua earthquake for details.)
Damage and casualties
The earthquake had a magnitude of 8.0 Ms and 7.9 Mw. The epicenter was in Wenchuan County, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, 80 km west/northwest of the provincial capital of Chengdu, with its main tremor occurring at 14:28:01.42 China Standard Time (06:28:01.42 UTC), on May 12, 2008, lasting for around 2 minutes; in the quake almost 80% of buildings were destroyed.
Extent of the tremors
Places ordered by distance from epicenter (or time of propagation) :
Office buildings in Shanghai's financial district, including the Jin Mao Tower and the Hong Kong New World Tower, were evacuated. A receptionist at the Tibet Hotel in Chengdu said things were "calm" after the hotel evacuated its guests. Meanwhile, workers at a Ford plant in Sichuan were evacuated for about 10 minutes.Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport was shut down, and the control tower and regional radar control evacuated. One SilkAir flight was diverted and landed in Kunming as a result.Cathay Pacific delayed both legs of its quadruple daily Hong Kong to London route due to this disruption in air traffic services. Chengdu Shuangliu Airport reopened later on the evening of May 12, offering limited service as the airport began to be used as a staging area for relief operations.
Reporters in Chengdu said they saw cracks on walls of some residential buildings in the downtown areas, but no buildings collapsed. Many Beijing office towers were evacuated, including the building housing the media offices for the organizers of the 2008 Summer Olympics. None of the Olympic venues were damaged. Meanwhile, a cargo train carrying 13 petrol tanks derailed in Hui County, Gansu, and caught on fire after the rail was distorted.
All of the highways into Wenchuan, and others throughout the province, were damaged, resulting in delayed arrival of the rescue troops. In Beichuan County, 80% of the buildings collapsed according to Xinhua News. In the city of Shifang, the collapse of two chemical plants led to leakage of some 80 tons of liquid ammonia, with hundreds of people reported buried. In the city of Dujiangyan, south-east of the epicenter, a whole school collapsed with 900 students buried and fewer than 60 survived. The Juyuan Middle School, where many teenagers were buried, was excavated by civilians and cranes. Dujiangyan is home of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, an ancient water diversion project which is still in use and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project's famous Fish Mouth was cracked but not severely damaged otherwise.
Both the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange suspended trading of companies based in southwestern China. Copper rose over speculations that production in southwestern China may be affected, and oil prices dropped over speculations that demand from China would fall.
Immediately after the earthquake event, mobile and terrestrial telecommunications were cut to the affected and surrounding area, with all internet capabilities cut to the Sichuan area too. Elements of telecommunications were restored by the government piece by piece over the next number of months as the situation in the Sichuan province gradually improved. Eventually, a handful of major news and media websites were made accessible online in the region, albeit with dramatically pared back webpages.
China Mobile had more than 2,300 base stations suspended due to power disruption or severe telecommunication traffic congestion. Half of the wireless communications were lost in the Sichuan province. China Unicom's service in Wenchuan and four nearby counties was cut off, with more than 700 towers suspended.
Initially, officials were unable to contact the Wolong National Nature Reserve, home to around 280 giant pandas. However, the Foreign Ministry later said that a group of 31 British tourists visiting the Wolong Panda Reserve in the quake-hit area returned safe and uninjured to Chengdu. Nonetheless, the well-being of an even greater number of pandas in the neighbouring panda reserves remained unknown. Five security guards at the reserve were killed by the earthquake. Six pandas escaped after their enclosures were damaged. By May 20, two pandas at the reserve were found to be injured, while the search continued for another two adult pandas that went missing after the quake. By May 28, 2008, one panda was still missing. The missing panda was later found dead under the rubble of an enclosure. Nine-year-old Mao Mao, a mother of five at the breeding center, was discovered on Monday, her body crushed by a wall in her enclosure. Panda keepers and other workers placed her remains in a small wooden crate and buried her outside the breeding centre.
The Zipingpu Hydropower Plant (simplified Chinese: 紫坪铺水库; traditional Chinese: 紫坪鋪水庫) located 20 km east of the epicenter was damaged. A recent inspection indicated that the damage was less severe than initially feared, and it remains structurally stable and safe. However, the Tulong reservoir upstream is in danger of collapse. About 2,000 troops have been allocated to Zipingpu, trying to release the pressure through spillway. In total, 391 dams, most of them small, were reported damaged by the quake.
According to Chinese state officials, the quake caused 69,180 known deaths including 68,636 in Sichuan province; 18,498 people are listed as missing, and 374,176 injured, but these figures may further increase as more reports come in.[needs update] This estimate includes 158 earthquake relief workers who were killed in landslides as they tried to repair roads.
One rescue team reported only 2,300 survivors from the town of Yingxiu in Wenchuan County, out of a total population of about 9,000. 3,000 to 5,000 people were killed in Beichuan County, Sichuan alone; in the same location, 10,000 people were injured and 80% of the buildings were destroyed. The old county seat of Beichuan was abandoned and preserved as part of the Beichuan Earthquake Museum. Eight schools were toppled in Dujiangyan. A 56-year-old was killed in Dujiangyan during a rescue attempt on the Lingyanshan Ropeway, where due to the earthquake 11 tourists from Taiwan had been trapped inside cable cars since May 13. A 4-year-old boy named Zhu Shaowei (traditional Chinese: 朱紹維; simplified Chinese: 朱绍维; pinyin: Zhū Shàowéi) was also killed in Mianzhu City when a house collapsed on him and another was reported missing.
Experts point out that the earthquake hit an area that has been largely neglected and untouched by China's economic rise. Health care is poor in inland areas such as Sichuan, highlighting the widening gap between prosperous urban dwellers and struggling rural people.Vice Minister of HealthGao Qiang told reporters in Beijing that the "public health care system in China is insufficient." The Vice Minister of Health also suggested that the government would pick up the costs of care to earthquake victims, many of whom have little or no insurance: "The government should be responsible for providing medical treatment to them," he said.
In terms of school casualties, thousands of school children died due to shoddy construction. In Mianyang City, seven schools collapsed, burying at least 1,700 people. At least 7,000 school buildings throughout the province collapsed. Another 700 students were buried in a school in Hanwang. At least 600 students and staff died at Juyuan Elementary School. Up to 1,300 children and teachers died at Beichuan Middle School. According to Tan Zuoren, 5,600 pupils were dead or missing from the 64 schools Tan investigated in the quake zone. Tan was detained after he published such a casualties number.
Details of school casualties had been under non-governmental investigation since December 2008 by volunteers including artist and architect Ai Weiwei, who had been constantly posting updates on his blog since March 2009. The official tally of students killed in the earthquake was not released until May 7, 2009, almost a year after the earthquake. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the earthquake killed 5,335 students and left another 546 children disabled. Some parents believe the real figure is twice that officially cited. The executive vice governor of SichuanWei Hong said the student death toll is 19,065. Mr. Wei noted the toll was incomplete as the officials were still tallying the final number. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Chinese government declared that parents who had lost their only children would get free treatment from fertility clinics to reverse vasectomies and tubal ligations conducted by family planning authorities.
The earthquake left at least 5 million people without housing, although the number could be as high as 11 million. Millions of livestock and a significant amount of agriculture were also destroyed, including 12.5 million animals, mainly birds. In the Sichuan province a million pigs died out of 60 million total.Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide reported official estimates of insurers' losses at US$1 billion from the earthquake; estimated total damage exceeded US$20 billion. It values Chengdu, at the time having an urban population of 4.5 million people, at around US$115 billion, with only a small portion covered by insurance.
Reginald DesRoches, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech, pointed out that the massive damage of properties and houses in the earthquake area was because China did not create an adequate seismic design code until after the devastating 1976 Tangshan earthquake. DesRoches said: "If the buildings were older and built prior to that 1976 earthquake, chances are they weren't built for adequate earthquake forces."
In the days following the disaster, an international reconnaissance team of engineers was dispatched to the region to make a detailed preliminary survey of damaged buildings. Their findings show a variety of reasons why many constructions failed to withstand the earthquake.
News reports indicate that the poorer, rural villages were hardest hit. Swaminathan Krishnan, assistant professor of civil engineering and geophysics at the California Institute of Technology said: "the earthquake occurred in the rural part of China. Presumably, many of the buildings were just built; they were not designed, so to speak." Swaminathan Krishnan further added: "There are very strong building codes in China, which take care of earthquake issues and seismic design issues. But many of these buildings presumably were quite old and probably were not built with any regulations overseeing them."
Even with the five largest cities in Sichuan suffering only minor damage from the quake, some estimates of the economic loss run higher than US$75 billion, making the earthquake one of the costliest natural disasters in Chinese history.
Strong aftershocks continued to strike even months after the main quake. On May 25, an aftershock of 6.0 Mw (6.4 Ms according to CEA) hit northeast of the original earthquake's epicenter, in Qingchuan County, Sichuan, causing eight deaths, 1,000 injuries, and destroying thousands of buildings. On May 27, two aftershocks, one 5.2 Mw in Qingchuan County and one 5.7 Mw in Ningqiang County, Shaanxi, led to the collapse of more than 420,000 homes and injured 63 people. The same area suffered two more aftershocks of 5.6 and 6.0 Ms (5.8 and 5.5 Mw, respectively, according to USGS) on July 23, resulting in 1 death, 6 serious injuries, the collapse of hundreds of homes and damaging kilometers of highways.Pingwu County and Beichuan County, Sichuan, also northeast of Wenchuan and close to the epicenter of a 7.2 Ms earthquake in 1976, suffered a 6.1 Ms aftershock (5.7 Mw according to USGS) on August 1; it caused 2 deaths, 345 injuries, the collapse of 707 homes, damage to over 1,000 homes, and blocked 25 kilometres (16 mi) of country roads. As late as August 5, yet another aftershock of 6.1 Ms (6.2 Mw according to USGS) hit Qingchuan, Sichuan, causing 1 death, 32 injuries, telecommunication interruptions, and widespread hill slides blocking roads in the area including a national highway.
Executive vice governor Wei Hong confirmed on November 21, 2008, that more than 90,000 people in total were dead or missing in the earthquake. He stated that 200,000 homes had been rebuilt, and 685,000 were under reconstruction, but 1.94 million households were still without permanent shelter. 1,300 schools had been reconstructed, with initial relocation of 25 townships, including Beichuan and Wenchuan, two of the most devastated areas. The government spent $441 billion on relief and reconstruction efforts.
General Secretary and PresidentHu Jintao announced that the disaster response would be rapid. Just 90 minutes after the earthquake, PremierWen Jiabao, who has an academic background in geomechanics, flew to the earthquake area to oversee the rescue work. Soon afterward, the Ministry of Health stated that it had sent ten emergency medical teams to Wenchuan County. On the same day, the Chengdu Military Region Command dispatched 50,000 troops and armed police to help with disaster relief work in Wenchuan County. However, due to the rough terrain and close proximity of the quake's epicenter, the soldiers found it very difficult to get help to the rural regions of the province. Premier Wen encouraged the People's Liberation Army by saying, “It is the people who have raised you. It’s up to you to see what to do! Even with two legs, you must walk in there." "(是人民养育了你们, 你们自己看着办! 你们就是靠双腿走, 也要给我走进去)."
The National Disaster Relief Commission initiated a "Level II emergency contingency plan", which covers the most serious class of natural disasters. The plan rose to Level I at 22:15 CST, May 12.
An earthquake emergency relief team of 184 people (consisting of 12 people from the State Seismological Bureau, 150 from the Beijing Military Area Command, and 22 from the Armed Police General Hospital) left Beijing from Nanyuan Airport late May 12 in two military transport planes to travel to Wenchuan County.
Many rescue teams, including that of the Taipei Fire Department from Taiwan, were reported ready to join the rescue effort in Sichuan as early as Wednesday. However, the Red Cross Society of China said that (on May 13) "it was inconvenient currently due to the traffic problem to the hardest hit areas closest to the epicenter." The Red Cross Society of China also stated that the disaster areas need tents, medical supplies, drinking water and food; however it recommended donating cash instead of other items, as it had not been possible to reach roads that were completely damaged or places that were blocked off by landslides. Landslides continuously threatened the progress of a search and rescue group of 80 men, each carrying about 40 kg of relief supplies, from a motorized infantry brigade under commander Yang Wenyao, as they tried to reach the ethnically Tibetan village of Sier at a height of 4000 m above sea level in Pingwu county. The extreme terrain conditions precluded the use of helicopter evacuation, and over 300 of the Tibetan villagers were stranded in their demolished village for five days without food and water before the rescue group finally arrived to help the injured and stranded villagers down the mountain.
Persistent heavy rain and landslides in Wenchuan County and the nearby area badly affected rescue efforts. At the start of rescue operations on May 12, 20 helicopters were deployed for the delivery of food, water, and emergency aid, and also the evacuation of the injured and reconnaissance of quake-stricken areas. By 17:37 CST on May 13, a total of over 15,600 troops and militia reservists from the Chengdu Military Region had joined the rescue force in the heavily affected areas. A commander reported from Yingxiu Town, Wenchuan, that around 3,000 survivors were found, while the status of the other inhabitants (around 9,000) remained unclear. The 1,300 rescuers reached the epicenter, and 300 pioneer troops reached the seat of Wenchuan at about 23:30 CST. By 12:17 CST, May 14, 2008, communication in the seat of Wenchuan was partly revived. On the afternoon of May 14, 15 Special Operations Troops, along with relief supplies and communications gear, parachuted into inaccessible Mao County, northeast of Wenchuan.
By May 15, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered the deployment of an additional 90 helicopters, of which 60 were to be provided by the PLAAF, and 30 were to be provided by the civil aviation industry, bringing the total number of aircraft deployed in relief operations by the air force, army, and civil aviation to over 150, resulting in the largest non-combat airlifting operation in People's Liberation Army history.
Beijing accepted the aid of the Tzu Chi Foundation from Taiwan late on May 13. Tzu Chi was the first force from outside the People's Republic of China to join the rescue effort. China stated it would gratefully accept international help to cope with the quake.
A direct chartered cargo flight was made by China Airlines from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport sending some 100 tons of relief supplies donated by the Tzu Chi Foundation and the Red Cross Society of Taiwan to the affected areas. Approval from mainland Chinese authorities was sought, and the chartered flight departed Taipei at 17:00 CST, May 15 and arrived in Chengdu by 20:30 CST. A rescue team from the Red Cross in Taiwan was also scheduled to depart Taipei on a Mandarin Airlines direct chartered flight to Chengdu at 15:00 CST on May 16.
Francis Marcus of the International Federation of the Red Cross praised the Chinese rescue effort as "swift and very efficient" in Beijing on Tuesday. But he added the scale of the disaster was such that "we can't expect that the government can do everything and handle every aspect of the needs". The Economist noted that China reacted to the disaster "rapidly and with uncharacteristic openness", contrasting it with Burma's secretive response to Cyclone Nargis, which devastated that country 10 days before the earthquake.
On May 16, rescue groups from South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Russia and Taiwan arrived to join the rescue effort. The United States shared some of its satellite images of the quake-stricken areas with Chinese authorities. During the weekend, the US sent into China two U.S. Air Force C-17's carrying supplies, which included tents and generators. Xinhua reported 135,000 Chinese troops and medics were involved in the rescue effort across 58 counties and cities.
The Internet was extensively used for passing information to aid rescue and recovery efforts. For example, the official news agency Xinhua set up an online rescue request center in order to find the blind spots of disaster recovery. After knowing that rescue helicopters had trouble landing into the epicenter area in Wenchuan, a student proposed a landing spot online and it was chosen as the first touchdown place for the helicopters[not in citation given].
The southern region of Sichuan was struck by a devastating earthquake which killed some 80,000 people almost five years ago.
It was the year of the Olympic Games in Beijing. The state media was made to report matters in a positive way. The crisis should be used to demonstrate the "boundless love" and unity of a nation. Certain discordant voices were effectively drowned out, such as those that questioned why most school buildings collapsed while those belonging to the authorities did not. At that time, social media in China was at a stage that could in no way be compared to today.
On April 20, a magnitude 7 quake shook Sichuan province once again. The catastrophe hit in the early morning and, according to media reports, there were some 200 deaths this time around. A further 10,000 people were reported injured with some 100,000 having to leave their homes.
As was the case five years ago, the Chinese Prime Minister, this time Li Keqiang, boarded a plane and headed for Sichuan to lead the rescue work on the scene.
Limited help for householders
In the last earthquake, every household with a damaged home received an aid grant of about 20,000 yuan (2,400 euros; 3,140 US dollars) along with cheap credit terms. However, to build a new house, those who were affected had to find a large sum of money for themselves.
Like his predecessor, Prime Minister Li (seated center) was quickly at the scene
State television CCTV showed Li on Sunday having breakfast and visiting people in villages and hospitals. He offered words of comfort. "The new houses must be better than before," he said.
There are reasons for optimism, believes Wu Qiang, a political scientist at Beijing's renowned Tsinghua University.
"In comparison to the last earthquake five years ago, this time it is not just state media that has reacted swiftly to the disaster with uninterrupted rolling news. The government's rescue efforts have also been better," said Wu.
The perception of the public is also more positive, he believes. "In social media on the Internet, the number of comments about the effectiveness of the rescue efforts that are positive outweighs those that are not."
'Encouraging step forward'
With more than 500 million users, Weibo - the Internet equivalent of Twitter in China - has become the country's principal social media forum. It coexists with the state media and, in many cases, is seen to hold the government and authorities to account in a way that the official media cannot.
The rescue response is preceived by many to have been much improved
Information about how people could themselves rescue friends and neighbors hit by the quake was also quickly spread through forums like Weibo. There were other ideas about what should be done; people should not use cell phones more than necessary so that relief efforts were not compromised; tolls for highways to the affected areas should be suspended and clinics should treat the injured for free and public buildings should, where necessary, be opened up for the needy. Where these appeals were not heeded, those involved were immediately pilloried via Weibo.
Users are by and large agreed that the influence of social networks has grown significantly since the 2008 quake. As one Weibo user wrote: "Is this not an encouraging step forward?"
It is still far too early, so soon after the quake, to judge appropriately judge the rescue efforts, writer Zhang Qingzhou told DW, whose book "Tangshan's warning to the world," was published in 2006 and soon afterwards banned in China. Zhang, who is held in high esteem in specialist circles and whose book continues to be published in Hong Kong, calls for a different approach to the way the country deals with earthquakes.
"Any country in such a situation would use all available resources to save people in the catastrophe zones," said Zhang. "In my opinion, it would be more effective to put better warning systems for natural disasters in place than to put so much emphasis on making rescue services perfect."
Waning desire to donate
A particularly significant change since the last earthquake is the attitude of the public to donating towards relief efforts. Five years ago, the Chinese Red Cross collected some 65 million yuan over a 30-hour period. This time around, it has collected just 26 million yuan, a steep drop, although the number of fatalities is much lower.
Some 100,000 people have been forced to leave their home as a result of the quake
A strong mistrust of Red Cross and other official aid organizations is conspicuous on the Internet. The political scientist Wu Qiang points out that this feeling has been clearly expressed on Weibo. In contrast, the charitable organization One Foundation, founded by martial artist and actor Jet Li, was able to raise 25 million yuan on the first day after the quake. As one Weibo user put it: "I will donate nothing until the government lifts its monopoly of the Red Cross."
What has and has not changed remains to be see. However, He Weifang, a law professor at Beijing University urged Weibo readers to consider the way the disaster was reported by state media.
"I felt the urgent need to find out all the latest figures about the number of victims and the latest development when it came to the rescue efforts," said He. "But in the first ten minutes it was the same as ever; the latest government statements being broadcast continuously. Then, once again, it was the turn of a party official to have his say about caring for the victims and leading the rescue efforts. How about first reporting the extent of the catastrophe and then bringing us news about the leadership?"