The Sichuan Earthquake occurred on May 12, 2008, in the Sichuan province of southwestern China. The epicenter of the 7.9 earthquake was located near the city of Dujiangyan, depicted in Image one below, about 50 miles from the capital Chengdu. The earthquake was the result of the Indian-Australian and Eurasian plates, also known as the Eastern Tibetan Plateau and Sichuan Basin, colliding along the Longmenshan Fault depicted in Image two below. The Longmenshan Fault is a thrust fault and the compression of the Indian-Australian plate and the Eurasian plate shifted the ground in two locations. When the plates collided they thrusted the ground approximately 29 feet in some places. Around 90,000 people were counted as dead or missing by the Chinese government assessment, with an additional 375,000 people injured from falling debris and building collapses.
For decades, Chinese scientists have known of the potential risk of being along the Longmenshan Fault. The Wenchuan earthquake that occurred in 1933 was studied intensely in the 1970s and has always resulted in a strong fault alignment that could cause a huge quake in the future. Though with the knowledge of the faults history, Chinese experts emphasized that at the time they were unable to predict the occurrence of the Sichuan earthquake. Many scientists did advocate for stronger precautionary measures but did not warn the government as strongly as they would have liked. They underestimated the seismic danger and the Longmenshan fault did not appear on the watch list of likely troubled spots.
For years the Sichuan Basin had a good natural environment to produce specialty products and a large labor force. Some specialty products cultivated included grain, meat, rapeseed, and silkworm cocoon. The terraced area or commonly long narrow strips of land was used for a multitude of irrigation with different methods of growing. A large majority of the population made their livelihood from agriculture with some working for themselves and others in factories.
The traditional way to enter the Sichuan area used to be through the dangerous Yangtze Gorges in the east through Chongqing or the deep canyons and swift currents of the Dadu and Jinsha rivers in the west. Since the 1950s railways have been built and steel bridges have been constructed over the rivers in the west.
With these factors in mind and the lack of preparation and precaution from the Chinese government, the people of the Sichuan province were very vulnerable to the 2008 quake. The steep terrace land caused many landslides and mudslides to block routes and crush animals, people, agriculture, railways, and more. There were no exit strategies in place as the government themselves didn’t think the area was a big danger zone.
For the phases of recovery, the emergency phase for Sichuan took several years to complete. Immediately, the Chinese government dispatched rescue teams, medical workers, and thousands of soldiers to help citizens. More than 80,000 people were killed and a minimum of 4.8 million people were left homeless. The Chinese government acted in emergency and set out an action plan that would help rebuild new homes for the survivors. Over the next three years, the Chinese government reformed building codes and built modernized hospitals, schools, and sanitation plants.
Their restoration plan was to have surrounding provinces that weren’t heavily affected by the earthquake to send help. During the beginning months, the Chinese government also requested help from the UN. The UN refugee agency supplied shelter and food and was also accompanied by the Italian and Irish governments. With the help and planning of the Chinese government, the reconstruction phase was completed in three years. The Chinese government built 6.6 million new houses, more than 100 towns were built and around $48.3 billion dollars was spent.
To prevent future disasters, China has made considerable effort to secure the Sichuan people’s safety. The Chinese government has made and enforced new building codes. Provided new housing for survivors that had styles chosen by the families inhabiting them. They also adopted an earthquake warning system that blares on TVs and mobile phones and put earthquake training drills in schools.