Beichuan school collapse comes under spotlight

Updated: 2008-05-26 19:15

CHENGDU - Local officials have promised a special investigation into the collapse of the Beichuan Middle School, where up to 1,300 children and teachers may have died in China's May 12 earthquake.

The southwest China quake left at least 14,538 dead and 3,397 missing in Beichuan County alone, but the most lamented victims have been children of the Middle School who were crushed to death in class.

"We will preserve all the buildings, whether collapsed or not, for experts to investigate," Zuo Daifu, Mianyang vice mayor, was quoted as saying by the First Financial Daily.

"Most of the experts will be dispatched soon by the central government," he was quoted as saying. "But the specific time for the investigation has yet to be decided.

"The builders will be held responsible if the building work is found to be shoddy," he said.

The school, which was finished in 1998, took five years to build, but it collapsed within several seconds in the quake.

Two teaching buildings in the school were leveled and another, where 508 students were having class, was badly damaged. More than 1,300 of the school's 2,900 students and teachers are either dead or missing.

The central government has ordered local authorities to investigate the causes of the school collapses, which have sparked public anger.

China Daily said in an editorial on May 14 that the destruction of school buildings showed that education funds were either "inadequate or are allocated too slowly for local schools to renovate their buildings so that they can withstand major earthquakes".

Under China's Construction Law, construction companies are responsible for construction quality on a project, while the government has the duty to supervise the building operation and make sure the construction follows design drawings and technical standards.

Han Jin, head of the planning department of the Education Ministry, said last week that casualties of students and teachers were high and he pledged to investigate the quality of the school buildings.

"If quality problems do exist in school buildings, we will punish the persons responsible strictly with no tolerance and give the public a satisfactory answer," he said.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has ordered local authorities to investigate why school buildings collapsed in the earthquake, said Yang Rong, director of the ministry's department of standard and norms.

Yang said China had clear requirements on seismic-resistant designs for buildings in primary and high schools.

School buildings should use structures that meet engineering and construction standards as well as local quake-resistance requirements.

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