20080605: aftershock

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/recenteqsww/Quakes/us2008sxa7.php is a link to a website that encapsulates so much that is good about the Internet. It’s open, free, combines various technologies cleverly, quickly and the results are clear and useful.  Random Stuff may not reach those goals apart from the second one.

At about 2pm the office wobbled a bit for what seemed like 10 seconds. We are on the second floor (third floor for non-Brits) in a buidling with a steel-reinforced concrete frame but close to 1st Ring Road which seems to have not much below it given how much it oscillated on 12th May 08.  Everyone stopped for a moment, then looked at other people, and then the smiles of relief spread around the office as it becomes clear that it’s ‘only’ an aftershock. It cannot be much fun at or near the epicentre, where they are still clearing buildings away and clearing away bodies.

For each dead person, the family will receive 5000 RMB (Approx 7 RMB to the USD at the moment, about 13.6 RMB to the GBP), which is possibly between a year’s and 6 months’ pay for most of the people affected.  The smell of bleach / death still lingers/clings/dawdles clammily around the affected areas.

Driving past a collapsed primary school (one of many) with framed photos of the killed children is, for all, silencing.  Stricter building codes will help in the future, but it’s not certain how many ‘good’ buildings can withstand 3 to 4 minutes of a 7+ earthquake.  We spoke to the manager of one of the newest 5-star hotels, who said that it was built to withstand a 9-scale earthquake, but, he added, “it’s hard to know which buildings can survive a big earthquake that lasts that long.”

One teenager reported how one teacher had reacted when the ‘big one’ hit.  She initially did the ‘sensible’ thing, and then panic took over. She asked the children to sit down and sit still for a moment, and then, as the building started to gyrate violently, she ran out of the classroom.  Few people here are trained for these situations, and almost everyone in our office, once they saw what our building was doing, sprinted out with few thoughts for other people. It is hard to know how anyone can react to something like it.

Otherwise, the Sun is shining and we’re celebrating someone’s birthday tonight!

Another positive piece of news is that the first baby was born recently in one of the field hospitals set up by the government and aid agencies. I met Antonin, a Czech former colonel who is a logistics specialist and was in Chengdu along with a British fire service senior officer to coordinate the delivery of EU aid shipments, and he passed on that information. Both men were very impressed with the openness, rapidity and scale of the response of the authorities here and local people’s willingness to help.