Why Did So Many Sichuan Schools Collapse?


Copyright Caijing
International Children’s Day was celebrated with sadness in Mianyang, a city in the heart of earthquake-shaken Sichuan Province. Parents in mourning arranged photos of the 128 children they lost atop debris from the collapsed Fuxing No. 2 Primary School. They renamed the event “Children’s Day in Heaven.”
Bi Kaiwei, father of a deceased 12-year-old, said his daughter was a dancer with beautiful eyes. Ever since her body was pulled from the rubble, the mother has followed a daily routine – in memorial. Each morning she carries her daughter’s photo to what used to be the school, and each night she brings it home.
Parental grief has spread like a pall over Sichuan. Thousands of schools with children inside collapsed during the magnitude 8 earthquake on the afternoon of May 12. Many young victims were killed by falling concrete and bricks.
Afterward, many parents demanded explanations. They wanted to know why the buildings collapsed so easily. Official data and a Caijing investigation of five crumbled schools has helped shed light on the answer.
A Ministry of Education official, Han Jin, told the media May 16 that 6,898 classrooms collapsed across Sichuan. Two weeks later, the publication 21st Century Business Herald reported that nearly 2 million square meters of school space had crumbled in the quake, killing 4,737 students and injuring more than 16,000.
A government investigation of the tragedy continues. Currently, the central government’s education and construction ministries are divided over whether to blame the size of the earthquake or poor quality construction. At the core of the debate is a simple question: Are schools in China more prone to collapse than other buildings?
A graphic reply to that question can be found at the Fuxing school site. The building where Bi’s daughter was busy studying with classmates was completely shattered when the quake struck. But many buildings surrounding the school survived and stand intact even today, towering over the debris.
What happened at Fuxing mirrored tragedies in cities across Sichuan. Two buildings at the Juyuan Middle School were the only structures that completely collapsed in the city of Dujiangyan, killing 240 students. Similar stories were told in communities across the region, including Mianyang, Mianzhu and Shifang.
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