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School building quality to be probed
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10:26, May 17, 2008

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· 7.8 Richter scale earthquake hits SW China
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A top housing official said on Friday that the construction quality of collapsed school buildings will be investigated once rescue work is completed in quake-hit areas.

"If quality problems do exist in the school buildings, those found responsible will be dealt with severely," said Housing and Urban and Rural Construction Minister Jiang Weixin.

He made the remark during a press conference in response to reports about heavy casualties of students in the quake-hit areas where a large number of school buildings collapsed. In certain cases, nearly all students and teachers perished after they were buried under the rubble.

Jiang said it will take time to properly assess the situation regarding the collapsed buildings.

Yang Rong, deputy director of the ministry's department of standards and norms, said in an online interview on Friday that China has clear requirements on quake-resistant designs for primary and high school buildings, but "the intensity of this tremor far exceeded the stated requirements in Sichuan".

The authorities will consider whether to raise the standards after checking the collapsed schools, said Yang.

The quake that struck on Monday has so far destroyed more than 4 million buildings in Sichuan, including at least 6,898 school buildings as of Wednesday, said Han Jin, head of the development and planning department of the Ministry of Education.

The quake hit at 2:28 pm on Monday, when students were in class, leading to severe fatalities, Han said.

In Mianyang city, seven schools collapsed, burying 1,700 people, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Another 700 students were reported to have been buried in a school in the nearby town of Hanwang.

Education authorities in Yunnan, a province bordering Sichuan, have ordered the demolition of 6 million sq m of dangerous school buildings.

"The earthquake in Sichuan has sent an alarm that we should enhance the quake-resistance of school buildings," Luo Chongmin, head of education bureau of the province, told local media.

Experts have warned that tens of millions of students in schools from Asia to the Americas face similar risks, yet programs to reinforce schools or require that new ones be built on higher standards are inconsistent, slow and inadequately financed.

In 2004, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a study entitled Keeping Schools Safe in Earthquakes, which concluded that schools "routinely" collapsed in quakes around the world because of avoidable design or construction errors, or because existing laws and building codes were not enforced.

"Unless action is taken immediately to address this problem, much greater loss of life and property will occur," said the report.


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