In May 2008, a memorial tragedy has carved our heart. More than 60,000 of our compatriots died in the Great Sichuan Earthquake. It was a once-in-a-year strong earthquake registering a magnitude of 7. 8 measured in the Richter scale. The province where the earthquake took place, Sichuan, is in western China and its capital is named Chengdu. It is surrounded by the Sichuan Basin. In the Great Sichuan earthquake, the epicenter was in Wenchuan County, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, which is 80 km north-west of Chengdu; and its depth was 19 km.
On May 12, 2008, the earthquake occurred at 14:28 (China Standard Time) and the first tremor was felt. The earthquake was so strong that it was felt by cities like Beijing and Shanghai, and neighbour places like Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam and Thailand also experienced tremors. The scope of the areas affected by the quake mainly included the north-east China along the Longmen Shan fault. The Sichuan Basin was created 55 millions years ago, where the Indo-Australian Plate collided with the Eurasian Plate. These endogenetic forces create fold mountains, and therefore the Sichuan basin is bounded by mountains on all sides.
As a consequence, areas around the Sichuan Basin are prone to earthquake. In 1933, there was a 7. 5-magnitude earthquake occurring in north-west of Sichuan, causing 7500 deaths. What has caused such a massive earthquake? To be precise, according to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred because of the motion on a northeast striking reverse fault on the northwestern edge of the Sichuan Basin. Since the crustal materials moved slowly from the high Tibetan Plateau, when they flowed to the strong crust underlying the Sichuan Basin and southeastern China, pressure gradually developed.
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The energy was then released in the form of seismic waves and thus led to the occurrence of the earthquake. Another possible cause is that the huge amount of water storage in reservoirs in Sichuan developed stress over the crust. The pressure stored may be released, causing an earthquake. There were not any official warnings prior to the main quake. This is attributed to the fact that earthquakes are hard to forecast, and the results are not always accurate. However, it is said that there was a sign revealing the earthquake: a large number of toads were migrating in Sichuan two days before the main quake.
These animals’ abnormal acts may reflect in earthquake events. In the Sichuan Earthquake, the China Earthquake Administration did not find strong evidence to show that an earthquake was to be occurred. Therefore, when the earthquake came, evacuation could not be made effective and thus a huge damage was resulted. Then on 12 May, an earthquake indeed struck the area. The main quake of the Sichuan Earthquake took place at 14:28 local time, nevertheless, the rupture lasted for only 120 seconds. In the following three days, many aftershocks still threatened the people.
There were 64 to 104 major aftershocks, with magnitude ranging from 4. 0 to 6. 1. These aftershocks continued to bring new deaths and casualties in the area. For example, on 17 May, an aftershock destabilized a slope and caused a landslide. On 25 and 27 May, the Qingchuan County had two aftershocks on the spot with magnitudes greater than 5. On 27 May again, an aftershock hit the Ningciang County. Till 29 June, the number of deaths has reached about 70,000 and over 370,000 people were injured. More than 17,000 people were missing, and many people were made homeless.
More than 15 million people must be evacuated out of the area, and about 45 million people were affected by the incident. As a recent natural hazard, the Sichuan Earthquake is definitely a severe one, with a tremendous destruction. This earthquake caused the most serious casualties and deaths after the occurrence of the Tangshan Earthquake in 1976. Apart from the loss of lives, the earthquake brought about many impacts as well. The impacts can be divided into three aspects, namely social, economic, and environmental. First, 0. 21 million of buildings and houses were collapsed, including 7,000 schools.
Many people lost their homes, and students lost their opportunity of education for a period of time. Later it was found that some buildings were too loosely structured; partly because of corruption. Some workers did not do their best to build the buildings. In addition, the communication network was destroyed. In Sichuan, Chongqing and Huabei, the communication was completely jammed. The traffic network was also disrupted. Many highways or railways were cracked due to great vibrations, and the international airport in Chengdu was closed. The roads must be closed for maintenance.
These have led to difficulty in relief work. Finally, some victims of the earthquake stole or robbed stuff. After the earthquake, there were more crimes committed by the victims. On the other hand, the Sichuan Earthquake brought environmental issues. In the affected areas, clean water was inadequate. When people had to drink contaminated water, illnesses or diseases may be developed. Also, in the areas, corpses were everywhere and we know how unhygienic it was! Together with the warm temperature, the filthy place set up a good condition for diseases to spread.
To make the affected areas more hygienic, the death bodies must be incinerated, and cleaning agents like insecticides must be sprayed regularly. Meanwhile, the affected areas were heavily polluted. The earthquake initiated poisonous gas leakage, explosions or fires, which in turn polluted the air. The ecology was disrupted as well. On the economic aspect, the disastrous events led to huge economic losses. The government used more than $400 billion for relief and rescue work. The Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange lost connection with Sichuan and Chengdu companies, the companies’ stock prices dropped substantially afterwards.
Owing to fact that the earthquake has destroyed Sichuan so terribly, prompt relief and rescue work was crucial. The mitigation work involved the efforts of local government, regional and international aid. The central government sent different leaders to the affected areas to manage relief work. On 14 May, two days after the main quake, more than 11,000 people participated to give assistance to the suffered people. A team of medical helpers was sent to deal with health problems. The government also kept necessities and rescue materials which are to be sent to the victims.
Different departments cooperate to restore Sichuan’s face. Until 18 May, more than 110,000 military personnel and policemen were sent to participate in rescue work. They saved thousands of lives, evacuated tourists and residents, repaired the highways and transferred materials to the affected victims. This devastating earthquake has called for help from all over the world. In Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the voluntary or charity organizations held many fund-raising campaigns to raise money or food to the Sichuan people.
Even in the initial state of mitigation, the Hong Kong and Macau governments donated 0. 2 billion to China. Many helpers like policemen were also sent to Sichuan to help mitigation work. Apart from regional help, the earthquake victims gained help from international aids. For instance, Valley Tsinghua Network (SVTN) set up the "China Earthquake Relief Fund" to help victims involved in the massive earthquake. This China Relief Fund provided a convenient platform for individuals, organizations to donate money to the victims, where all proceeds went to the Red Cross Society of China to help restoring the infrastructure in Sichuan.
Many countries including India, Singapore, Russia, America and Japan provided China materials, money, apparatus and services to search for lives and help the suffered ones. Some volunteered professionals reached Sichuan to give education to the children, to soothe the suffered people and to give counseling and care to them. The victims’ emotions must be calmed down to prevent emotional disorders. It seems that the Sichuan Earthquake had a perfect solution with the aids of different parties. In fact, there were many difficulties encountered in rescue work. After an earthquake, the immediate step is to save as many lives as possible.
The first 72 hours are golden times. The Sichuan Earthquake, however, occurred in mountainous regions where relief efforts were hindered by the landscape. Added to the above, the transfer of materials was difficult because of blocked roads and water transports. The visibility was lowered as a consequence of heavy rains; thus the people could not find the survivors easily. As a result, the rescuers could not reach in time, and there were still a large number of deaths. As seen from the human responses, the earthquake has caught global attention and acquired help and assistance from people.
But this still cannot redeem the lost lives. What are the lessons learned through this disaster? Since earthquakes give little warning in advance, the ultimate efforts should be put to mitigation and preparedness. The government has endeavored to pin down the number of deaths and casualties after the earthquake, but what about preparedness? Residents should be well educated about earthquake facts. They should know what to do when an earthquake indeed hits the area. Besides, preparedness includes recruitment of specialized and skillful rescue teams in case of an incidence of earthquake.
Transport and communication networks should always be maintained. The apparatus used in rescuing people can be improved by means of technology. Finally, the government can also “prepare” by inspecting the quality of buildings. Construction codes have been modified to reinforce the buildings in order to cope with earthquakes. However, the privately-built housings were not reported. Therefore, buildings with bad quality are likely to demolish when earthquakes hit. It was mentioned above that the Sichuan Earthquake is the most disastrous one following the Tangshan Earthquake.
In fact, both quakes have similar magnitudes and depths of epicenter. With a mountainous range in Sichuan, relief effort is difficult because the affected areas are hardly reached, and the materials are hardly transferred. So why did the Tangshan Earthquake cause much more deaths than the Sichuan one? The prime reason is that China restricted the spread of the news of Tangshan Earthquake, thus rejected help from others. As mentioned above, the suffered people in Sichuan Earthquake received many aids from all over the world. The mitigation was much better for the latter event.
Thanks to everyone who has paid an effort to help the victims in Sichuan. Natural hazards are inevitable. It is heartbroken that the people lose their homes, their family or their beloved ones. To bring minimal loss after a disaster, all of us must cooperate to give help. It is glad to see that all people were giving a hand to the Sichuan victims, and it is nice to see that Sichuan today is recovered. The Sichuan Earthquake has given us a precious lesson: what we should do today is prepare for the worst, and when another outraging disaster strikes, we shall do our best to counteract it.
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