China quake toll now at 80

In “total bummer” news, the death toll from a pair of earthquakes in mountainous southwest China on Friday has now risen to 80, and expected to keep climbing.

The first magnitude-5.6 quake struck just before 11:30 a.m. Friday and was followed by an equally strong quake shortly after noon, joined by dozens of aftershocks. Though of moderate strength, the quakes were shallow, which often causes more damage than deeper ones.

CTV News has more on the latest developments:

“Hardest hit was Yiliang County, where all but one of the deaths occurred, according to the Yunnan provincial government’s official website. Yiliang’s high population density — twice the provincial average — flimsy building construction and landslide-prone hillsides were blamed for the relatively high death toll.

China Central Television showed roads littered with rocks and boulders and pillars of dust rising over hilltops from the landslides.

Other footage showed villages of blue tents being set up for the evacuated, as well as search dogs going through the rubble from destroyed homes. The footage also showed several vehicles that were crushed by large boulders that had swept down mountainsides.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the quake area on Saturday and was seen on television consoling survivors and walking through hospitals.

Though quakes occur in the area frequently, buildings in rural areas and China’s fast-growing smaller cities and towns are often constructed poorly. A magnitude-7.9 quake that hit Sichuan province, just north of Yunnan, killed nearly 90,000 people in 2008, with many of the deaths blamed on poorly built structures, including schools.”

So how did the quakes in 2008 get so bad? The New York Times has your answers:

“Thousands of the initial quake’s victims were children crushed in shoddily built schools, inciting protests by parents. Local police harassed the protestors and the government criticized them. At least one human rights advocate who championed their cause was arrested.

The Chinese government has refused to release the number of students who died or their names. But one official report soon after the earthquake estimated that up to 10,000 students died in the collapse of 7,000 classrooms and dormitory rooms.

Reports emerged in July 2008 that local governments in the province had begun a coordinated campaign to buy the silence of angry parents whose children died during the earthquake.

Most parents whose children died took a payment of about $8,800 from the local government and a guarantee of a pension in exchange for silence.

In December 2008, government officials acknowledged in the most definitive report since the earthquake that many school buildings across the country are poorly constructed and that 20 percent of primary schools in one southwestern province may be unsafe.”

Read more on China, France, America and the world beyond in the latest edition of Carnet Atlantique!

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