Tag Archives: earthquakes

China quake survivors spend second night in freezing cold

Battling bitingly cold weather and a lack of oxygen, rescue workers clawed with their bare hands through the rubble of homes and schools toppled by the 6.9 magnitude quake that hit Yushu county in Qinghai province on Wednesday.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

But thousands spent another night without shelter in freezing temperatures after the quake destroyed almost all the mudbrick and wooden houses in Jiegu, the local capital, and flattened schools.

“I lost my husband and I lost my house,” Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

“We don’t know what to do, we have no food,” she said, standing by the tent a stone’s throw from her collapsed mud and brick house.

China quake devastates stunned town

The number who perished rose to 760, including dozens of children, while 11,477 were injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting rescue coordinators.

The death toll is expected to rise further, with 243 still buried, and local officials say they were short of medical supplies and large digging equipment.

“The rescue job in this disaster zone faces many difficulties,” said Miao Chonggang, of the China Earthquake Administration, which is coordinating more than 7,000 rescuers.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao postponed a trip to Southeast Asia.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was “a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life”.

Chinese president calls quake ‘huge calamity’

Wen on Thursday visited the quake zone, an underdeveloped area of the Tibetan plateau known as the “Roof of the World”.

“The top priority is to save people. We will never give up even if there is only a slim hope,” Wen told a meeting at the quake-relief headquarters in Yushu, according to Xinhua.

Soldiers, police and firefighters used shovels, iron bars and bare hands to dig through the mangled piles of concrete and rubble from 15,000 toppled homes.

Foreign governments offered help as international aid officials warned that the priorities would be providing shelter, medical aid, food and water and ensuring sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of Internet users have been showing their solidarity with the quake victims by posting virtual flowers in online “mourning halls” and donating to appeals, Xinhua said.

Jiegu lies around 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the provincial capital Xining, about 4,000 metres above sea level, meaning rescue workers from outside the region struggled to cope with the lack of oxygen.

The government said electricity and phone links had been restored to dozens of towns but the difficult terrain, including deep canyons, and the bitter cold and remoteness of the area were hampering rescue efforts.

Dazed survivors told harrowing stories of loved ones crushed under their homes.

“There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble,” Samdrup Gyatso, 17, told Xinhua after his two-storey home crumbled.

Facts on China quake zone

Among the dead were at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers, Xinhua said, quoting local authorities, as grieving parents waited for news near the ruins of the schools, where discarded school books and clothes lay.

Xinhua said a baby boy had been born in a tent near the epicentre shortly after the quake.

“It must be the first life that came to the world after the disaster,” Huang Changmei, a doctor, told the agency.

“The baby brought hope to the ruined place.”

The devastation was reminiscent of the huge quake in May 2008 in Sichuan province, where thousands of children were among 87,000 deaths when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

Schoolbooks strewn in China quake rubble as children perish

Xu Mei, of the education ministry, denied a media report that around 200 children had been buried in the ruins of a primary school in Wednesday’s quake.

In Beijing, Zou Ming, the head of the government’s disaster relief department, said nearly 40,000 tents, 120,000 articles of clothing, 120,000 quilts and food were being dispatched.

Iceland volcano ash causes fresh air travel chaos

Aviation chiefs predicted Thursday that the drifting dust could throw travel plans into disarray for a further two days, after flights were banned over more than 10 European countries.

Thousands of passengers from Hong Kong to Dublin were stranded when aviation chiefs decided it was too risky to allow planes to fly through the cloud of ash, which is upwards of 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above the earth’s surface.

Although not visible from the ground, volcanic ash can be highly dangerous for aircraft, clogging up the engines and reducing visibility, experts say.

Up to 5,000 flights were affected by the flight bans Thursday, said Eurocontrol, the agency that coordinates flights in Europe.

Flights from all over the world, including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris and Athens, were affected by the cancellations in northern Europe.

The ash from the volcano under Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier blew southeast after Wednesday’s eruption towards Scotland and Norway, before covering England and Scandinavia, according to the London-based Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

The drifting cloud also closed airspace in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the north of France, parts of northern Germany and part of northern Poland.

Passengers’ travel nightmare was far from over Friday, with airspace closures still in force and the European air traffic control group Eurocontrol predicting further travel chaos.

The disruption “could last two days,” spokesman Kyla Evans told AFP from the agency’s Brussel’s headquarters.

Flights between North America and Europe also faced major disruption, with half of all services expected to be cancelled Friday, according to Eurocontrol.

Farmer tells of Iceland volcano blast There are an average of 600 flights between Europe and North America a day, it said.

Britain — which closed its airspace at 1100 GMT Thursday — said the ban would stay in force until 1800 GMT Friday for most flights in its airspace.

Belgian airspace is to remain closed Friday, authorities confirmed, while Air France said its flights in and out of Paris would not run.

In Scotland, health authorities warned people to beware of possible health problems from volcano ash falling to the ground.

Norway was the first to ground its flights on Wednesday evening, followed by Scotland overnight into Thursday and then London, before air traffic controllers announced no flights could go through British and Irish airspace.

Finland closed its northern airspace an hour later, followed by Denmark and Sweden.

Paris’s two main airports and more than a dozen others in the north of France were closed Thursday, aviation officials said.

A total of 466 flights between Spain and European destinations were cancelled Thursday because of the ash by 1530 GMT, Spain’s AENA aviation authority said.

Icelandic airports, however, reported no problems.

“The wind is blowing the ash to the east,” Hjordis Gudmundsdottir of the Icelandic Airport Authority told AFP, adding: “It’s amazing really.”

About 300 flights in and out of London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports had already been cancelled before the airspace was closed, leaving many of the 260,000 passengers who typically use the airports each day with nowhere to go.

“Basically we’re stranded here, and a lot of people are angry. I realise it’s an act of God — however it would be nice to have another exit strategy,” said Isobel Connolly, who was due to fly from Heathrow to Ireland.

In 1982, British Airways and Singapore Airways jumbo jets lost their engines when they flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia, while a KLM flight had a similar experience in 1989 over Alaska.

“On each occasion, the plane fell to within a few thousand feet of the ground before it was possible to restart the engines,” Rothery said.

Chile toll limited by planning

SANTIAGO, Chile – After experiencing one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike the earth in more than a century, Chileans accelerated their rescue, aid and security efforts in damaged regions Sunday but also took pride in the comparatively low death toll, a result widely attributed to the country’s meticulous planning and preparation.

The Chilean government dispatched troops to keep order in the hard-hit city of Concepcion, and President Michelle Bachelet opened the door to international aid a day after saying that “we generally do not ask for help.” Her remarks came after a lengthy meeting with advisers convinced her, she said, that the country faces “a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that it will require a giant effort to recover.” Experts said repairs will take years and will probably cost tens of billions of dollars.

While the death toll rose steadily to more than 700, according to a midday estimate, it remained a small fraction of the tally from a far less powerful earthquake last month in Haiti that claimed at least 220,000 lives. That temblor was more shallow and much closer to a large population center, the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. But the deaths there were mostly because of widespread building collapses, which Chilean cities did not experience.

Earthquake scientists, building engineers and political scientists in Chile and the United States agreed that even though half a million homes were heavily damaged during more than 120 seconds of shaking, the fact that so many Chileans survived was a testament to the nation’s enactment and enforcement of stringent building codes.

“We would have expected that an 8.8 earthquake would have done a lot more damage,” said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. “The people in Chile have experience with earthquakes that saved hundreds if not thousands of lives.”

The earthquake, centered 200 miles southwest of the capital, was one of at least a dozen in Chile since 1973 that were larger than magnitude 7. The quakes release stresses between two tectonic plates that are moving past each other at a rate roughly one-third faster than the plates that define the San Andreas fault in California, according to Jonathan Bray, a professor of geotechnical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.

“Unlike in Haiti, people think about earthquakes all the time in Chile. It’s in their mind,” said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. “This is a country that can mobilize resources and meet these national challenges.”

Chile has relatively low levels of corruption, making enforcement of building codes more credible than in other Latin American countries; its rank on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is 25, just six spots below the United States, while Haiti’s is 168.

Several U.S. disaster relief experts cautioned, however, that the Chilean government should be careful not to become overconfident. While Bachelet said at her news conference Sunday that the country needed field hospitals, water-purification plants, temporary bridges and experts in damage assessment, her plea was not immediately conveyed through official channels to Washington or the International Red Cross.

“We have resources that are positioned to deploy, should the Chilean government ask for our help,” President Obama said after speaking with Bachelet on Saturday. But Virginia Staab, the State Department’s spokeswoman for Western Hemisphere affairs, said late Sunday that while the United States has placed some search-and-rescue teams, field hospitals and medics on alert, “there have been no official requests right now.” The only U.S. aid provided so far, she said, was small amounts of water and food, as well as satellite communications and imagery of areas that have not yet been reached by rescue personnel.

Speaking of Bachelet’s statement, Staab said, “If she is looking for all of those [items] from us, we will likely provide them.” She added that Washington was hoping for some “clarity” by Monday morning on Chile’s request.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long planned to spend this week in Latin America, will arrive in Santiago on Tuesday morning, officials said. Once there, she intends to reiterate the administration’s willingness to assist.

The Red Cross released a statement Sunday calling the earthquake the worst disaster to hit Chile in 50 years — another major temblor occurred in 1960 — and said that six of Chile’s 15 geographic zones received catastrophic damage. So far, the American and international chapters of the Red Cross have released several hundred thousand dollars to their Chilean affiliate to fund search-and-rescue and first-aid efforts.

But Tracy Reines, director of the American Red Cross’s international response center, said that “we’re standing by, waiting” for a government request for more substantial aid. She noted that “you certainly want to get assistance quickly, but it does not have to be international assistance. . . . It can come from within Chile.”

Julia E. Sweig, director for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Chile will probably accomplish a lot on its own. “The Haiti and Chilean experiences dramatize the enormous differences between what we sloppily think of as one region. In Chile, you have an investment over decades in creating functioning institutions with a reliable tax base that produces a revenue stream with accountability of elected leaders. You have a functioning state and solid governance” that will make its response significantly better, Sweig said.

Police said more than 100 people died in Concepcion, one of the country’s largest cities, about 70 miles from the epicenter. Dozens of people were trapped inside a 14-story building that toppled, and at least 20 bodies were removed as teams of firefighters crawled through the wreckage, searching for signs of life. The Associated Press reported that 16 people had been pulled out alive. The city’s university caught fire as gas and power lines snapped. Many streets were littered with rubble.

As food, water and gasoline become scarce in Concepcion, looting erupted. Police using tear gas initially attempted to stop the looters. A battle developed inside a supermarket and ended only when police allowed local residents to form long lines and remove essential items for free. Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, the mayor of Concepcion, said, “We are going to have social explosion if aid is not received today.”

The Chilean air force sent a 747 filled with police officers to the region in an attempt to regain control. Military roadblocks were set up outside some cities to keep outsiders from joining the looting. Francisco Vidal, the Chilean minister of defense, announced a curfew and said 10,000 troops will be sent to the areas most affected by the earthquake.

At sunrise on Sunday, those who attempted to reenter their damaged homes to retrieve goods and food were forced to evacuate again when a powerful 6.3-magnitude aftershock hit, further complicating rescue efforts. But by midday, emergency workers from the capital had fanned out to a 375-mile stretch of coastline where the majority of the residents have no access to food, water or electricity. Communication with even larger cities was sporadic, while many minor outlying villages and smaller cities had not been reached by day’s end.

“Our biggest problem is in the Juan Fernandez region [the Robinson Crusoe Islands],” said Ivan de la Maza, regional governor of the hard-hit Valparaiso region. Multiple ocean swells estimated at 30 feet — 10 times as high as the relatively mild tsunami waves that reached Hawaii — demolished the islands’ coastal villages, 415 miles west of the mainland.

Residents there did not feel the earthquake, and most of them were asleep when huge ocean swells flooded the town at 6 a.m. Saturday. When rescue crews arrived Sunday, they found that the tsunami had churned houses and boats into mountains of debris before pulling them back into the Pacific. Aerial photos reveal streets that have been wiped off the map. The islands are home to an estimated 600 permanent residents, with 200 tourists believed to be visiting, many at waterside bed-and-breakfasts.

With most homes built of wood and lightly balanced on foundations, the structures first floated inland, then were smashed by subsequent swells described by the local mayor as “a train” of 10-foot-high waves.

In Santiago, thousands of families dragged their mattresses outside to sleep on the streets, fearing aftershocks.

“No one brings us anything. We are stuck here,” said Daniel Garcia, 28, a Peruvian immigrant who spent the night in the Barrio Brazil neighborhood, sleeping on the street with his family. The family dragged mattresses down two flights of stairs, piled a television atop a stack of rubble and used wreckage to build a makeshift shelter.