Gov't moves quickly after disaster

Updated: 2008-05-15 15:09

The government's quick response to the catastrophe reflects the leadership is able to deliver efficient disaster relief.

When a 7.8-magnitude deadly earthquake struck Southwest China Monday afternoon, the government quickly signaled a message of concern and action, as President Hu Jintao called for an "all-out" effort to aid survivors. Just hours after the quake, Premier Wen Jiabao flew to Sichuan to oversee rescue efforts.

Premier Wen Jiabao comforts an injured child in Mianyang, Sichuan Province on Tuesday, May 13, 2008. Some 7,395 have been reported dead in Mianyang. [Xinhua]

Within 24 hours of the quake, some 20,000 troops converged on the disaster area to help dig out survivors as military planes and trucks ferried in another 30,000 reinforcements.

However, the geographical condition in mountainous Sichuan Province is unfavorable for rescue. An old saying gives an exaggeration, "Climbing the mountains in Sichuan is as difficult as reaching the blue sky".

Facing the challenge of high mountains, blocked roads and heavy rainfall, the General Staff of the PLA headquarters ordered some 600 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops to enter the epicenter Wenchuan county on foot late Tuesday in a bid to intensify rescue efforts. The rescuers managed to hiked into the worst hit area early Wednesday morning and pulled more than 1,000 survivors from debris.

 Soldiers board a plane bound for the quake-hit Wenchuan at an airport in Kaifeng, Central China's Henan Province, May 13, 2008. [Xinhua] 

"Speed is absolutely critical in a situation like this. Their initial response is very good," said Dr. Maurice Ramirez, a founding chair of the American Board of Disaster Medicine.

Beijing's initial response to the quake was surprisingly quick, adds Gu Linsheng, a researcher with Tsinghua University's Emergency Management Research Center.

"What strikes me the most is that the response is really, really fast," he said.

Gu believes China's centralized government proves it is at an advantage in such times because it can mobilize manpower and resources at a moment's notice.

By the end of May 14, the third day after the quake struck, a total of 100,000 PLA troops and armed police were sent to stricken Sichuan Province.

Also the first batch of 100 elite soldiers were parachuted on Wednesday afternoon to the previously cut-off Maoxian County, which is close to the epicenter. The parachutists landed safely at 12:20 pm.

Wednesday evening the State Council ordered the deployment of 90 more helicopters for rescue missions in the province, bringing the total number of rescue helicopters to 110.

The timely disclosure of information during the earthquake has lent a strong hand to the disaster relief.

Within hours, the State Seismological Bureau and the local seismological departments held several press conferences to keep the media and public informed.

After the major earthquake, several cities such as Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai were clouded by rumors of possible strong aftershocks. The local seismological bureau refuted the rumors in one or two hours through the media. As a result, residents' lives and work soon restored to normal.

China's official media also responded quickly. They dispatched reporters to affected areas, broadcasting and relaying pictures and stories.

The confirmed national death toll reached 14,866 by 2 pm Wednesday, nearly all of them in Sichuan, according to the temporary disaster relief headquarters headed by Premier Wen.

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