UPDATE 6: Casualty numbers updated to reflect recent reports. A quotation from the New York Times added that suggest that the number of dead students may be being intentionally underreported.
UPDATE 5: Casualty numbers updated to reflect recent reports. Rescuers expect the death toll to continue to climb as the cold weather makes it increasingly difficult for those trapped under the rubble.
UPDATE 4: If you can handle it, China Daily has a pretty devastating story about teachers trying to dig their students out of the rubble with their bare hands.
UPDATE 3: Casualty numbers updated to reflect recent reports.
UPDATE 2: Gochengdoo has a pretty exhaustive list of ways to donate money to Qinghai earthquake relief efforts, and the Huffington Post has an even better one. We suggest the Red Cross Society of China (easy if you have a bank account in China), which has an English page set up here, or the Mercy Corps (easy if you have a foreign credit card). Lots of charities are taking donations in the name of helping out, we just picked these two because they already have teams on-site, but please check out all your options, we have not researched this exhaustively.
UPDATE: The China Daily reports the death toll has risen to 589, and that in addition to the
56 103 students killed there are also 40 students trapped under the rubble. The article below has been updated to reflect this and other relevant new info.
Undoubtedly, you have already heard about the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that occurred in Yushu, Qinghai province yesterday. You have probably heard the casualty numbers, which as of this writing remain at
400 589 760 1,144 1,484 dead, 8,000 11,477 11,744 12,088 injured, and 243 417 312 missing. And even if you haven’t read about it, you could probably guess that just like the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan two years ago, it seems as though shoddily built schools have collapsed, and 56 103 students have been killed. (BBC Chinese is reporting that “at least thirty” students have died, The Age is reporting 66 are believed dead.)
Recently, an article in the New York Times also suggested that the number of deceased students might be being intentionally underreported:
At the No. 3 Primary School, the monks said they had pulled 50 students from collapsed classrooms but when an official came by to ask how many had died, the police offered half that number. “I think they’re afraid to let the world know how bad this earthquake is,” said Gen Ga Ja Ba, a 23-year-old monk.
Ai Weiwei recently tweeted a rather relevant, if rhetorical, question to the government: “You fear the living. Do you also fear the dead?”
According to this story, “Yushu Assistant Director of Education Xiao Yuping said that as of around 7:40 P.M. yesterday, there were already 56 students who were confirmed dead.” According the China Daily, he also said that 22 of those deaths came from the vocational school. [UPDATE: Sources are now reporting at least 103 students are dead].
Additionally, the Vice-Pronpaganda Minister for the prefecture reported that he’d personally seen the local vocational school collapse, and reported that “many students were buried underneath.” It is unclear whether these students — or any students whose bodies haven’t yet been found — are being counted among the deceased.
Other sites have also reported school building collapses, but specific school names, and the number of schools (and students) involved remain unclear. Danwei’s piece quotes a China National Radio report where a Red Cross official reports that 70% of the schools in Yushu collapsed, but we haven’t been able to confirm that number — or exactly how many schools that is — anywhere else. According to Assistant Director of Education Xiao Yuping, only 50% of the schools in Yushu collapsed.
Also via Danwei, there are reports that the government is restricting who can and cannot do on-the-ground reporting, which may mean that specific numbers are still a ways off. (There’s also apparently no discussing the earthquake online allowed either.)
We don’t want to jump to any conclusions before there’s solid evidence, but 70% of the schools collapsing? If that figure is true, it is both tragic and, given the warning of the dangers of tofu-dreg buildings we got from the Sichuan earthquake that killed over 5,000 students, totally preventable. “Our top priority is to save students,” a rescuer told the China Daily. But perhaps that would be less of a priority if schools were being built properly in the first place.
It is, to say the least, disheartening.
We will try to keep up with the latest figures and report on them here as more information trickles out of the disaster area.
On an unrelated note: Today marks the 21st anniversary of Hu Yaobang’s death, which served as the spark that ignited the Tiananmen protests and eventual crackdown in 1989. Wen Jiabao has written and published a commemorative essay in the People’s Daily on Hu, who was ousted from the Party in 1987. A sign that the official line on Tiananmen might be shifting? [Update: We have translated Wen Jiabao’s editorial.]