Renovations at middle school in China probably saved many lives

June 16, 2008
In the 1990s, the principal pushed for badly needed upgrades to building

Nervous about the shoddiness of the main school building of Sangzao Middle School in China, principal Ye Zhiping scraped together $58,000 in the 1990s to renovate it. He had workers widen concrete pillars and insert iron rods into them. He demanded stronger balcony railings. He demolished a bathroom whose pipes had been weakened by water. His school probably withstood the 8.0-magnitude earthquake last month because he pushed the county government to upgrade it. Ye’s tale sheds light on the lax building codes in this mountainous corner of Sichuan Province and what might have been done to address well-known shortcomings. In his case, a personal commitment and a relatively petty amount of cash sufficed to avert tragedy.
To read The New York Times article, click here.

FROM MAY 2008: A growing international coalition of engineers, safety and community activists, earthquake experts and disaster agency officials have tried to transform schools from death traps into havens when disaster strikes. The movement really began in California in 1933, when 70 schools collapsed around Los Angeles in the so-called Long Beach earthquake. A month later the legislature passed what is now called the Field Act, a school earthquake-safety law with strict standards and penalties, requiring careful design and independently inspected construction. Since then, no student or teacher has been hurt during a quake in a school built under the Field Act’s terms.
To read The New York Times article, click here.

ALSO: The earthquake’s destruction of Xinjian Primary School in China was swift and complete. Hundreds of children were crushed as the floors collapsed in a deluge of falling bricks and concrete. In contrast, none of the nearby buildings were badly damaged. A separate kindergarten less than 20 feet away survived with barely a crack. An adjacent 10-story hotel stood largely undisturbed. And another local primary school, Beijie, catering to children of the elite, was in such good condition that local officials were using it as a refugee center. the number of student deaths from the earthquake seems likely to exceed 10,000, and grieving parents say their children might have lived had the schools been better built.
Click here to read The New York Times article.

Chinese officials, facing a barrage of questions from bereaved parents and angry citizens, say they will launch an investigation into why so many schools were toppled by last week's earthquake. Officials said that at least 6,898 schoolrooms had collapsed in Sichuan province, where the quake was centered. There are more than 418,000 elementary, middle and high schools in China, most of them in the countryside. The government has spent more than $2 billion in the last several years to renovate dilapidated rural schools. But well before the magnitude 7.9 quake buried thousands of children in dozens of flattened schools, there was a long list of schools devastated by smaller quakes in China.
Click here to read The Los Angeles Times article.

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