Text by Zi Mo
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Lushan County, Ya’an City, in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province at 8:02 a.m. on April 20, 2013. By April 23, 193 had died, 12,211 were injured, and nearly 2 million people in the area were affected.
Five years ago, the county was among those devastated in the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, which resulted in nearly 70,000 dead and nearly 180,000 missing. Before the scars from Wenchuan had even healed, another disaster struck nearby.
Located at the junction of the Sichuan-Tibet and Sichuan-Yunnan highways, 120 kilometers from Chengdu, Ya’an is known as an increasingly popular tourist city of historic and cultural significance, as well as one of China’s major bases for giant panda protection and research. Sichuan Bifeng Valley Giant Panda Research Base is located only 30 kilometers from the epicenter. Fortunately, none of the giant pandas there were injured.
Both Lushan and Wenchuan rest along the Longmen Mountain Thrust Belt, an area particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. A hundred kilometers separate the counties, with Wenchuan at the center of the thrust belt and Lushan to its south. Debate remains about the relationship between the two earthquakes. Preliminary data from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research and the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences ties the two disasters together, and some experts have hypothesized that the Lushan disaster was actually a severe aftershock of the Wenchuan quake.
Coping with the deadly earthquake has become an early test for China’s new central government especially as it simultaneously faces challenges from H7N9 avian flu. According to experts and the public, the authorities’ response to the most recent earthquake matured compared to five years ago. Five hours after the quake, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Sichuan to personally direct rescue operations. Within 72 hours, a window considered crucial to post-quake rescue, more than 24,000 rescuers and 11,000 medical workers were providing care for over 10,000 injured and relocating more than 230,000 who were left homeless. On the afternoon of April 23, every member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Political Bureau observed a moment of silence to pay tribute to the victims of the disaster during a meeting to discuss rescue and relief efforts across every affected area.
Shortly after the quake, dozens of non-governmental rescue teams and organizations from across the nation blanketed affected areas to help rescue and relief work. The massive flow of inbound volunteer traffic jammed roads for a time, but soon through guidance from government, publicity from media, and resources from charitable organizations, non-governmental rescue was progressing in an orderly manner.