Quake puts spotlight on building code compliance

14 May 2008

Concerns are being raised that building codes are not being followed in China, following Monday's devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province. The number of buildings that collapsed, particularly schools, has raised the question of whether they were built to withstand earthquakes, as specified in building codes.

The epicentre of Monday's earthquake was about 90 km northwest of the provincial capital Chengdu, which has a population of just over 11 million people. Although no major collapses have been reported in the city, many buildings are reported to have sustained serious structural damage, with large, visible cracks.

However, it is a different story in some of Sichuan's smaller towns and villages, where the 7.9 Richter Scale quake has caused death and destruction on a scale not seen in China for more than 30 years. At least 13000 people are thought to have been killed, and 60000 are still missing.

Some of the worst hit towns are in Beichuan county, where China's state news agency, Xinhua, reports that 80% of buildings have collapsed. Among these structures is Beichuan Middle school, a 7-storey building, which collapsed trapping as many as 1000 students.

In Shifang two ammonia plants have reportedly collapse, leading to massive leaks of the liquid into the local environment, while in Mianzhiu a steam turbine factory has reportedly collapsed.

The quake, combined with heavy rains also caused landslides, which closed several major highways in the Province, hampering rescue efforts.

This week's earthquake has revived memories of the 1976 earthquake centred on Tangshan in China's Eastern Hebei Province. The tremor all but destroyed this city of 1.6 million people and 225000 people were killed, although many believe this is a huge understatement of the true casualties.

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