350 schools suspend classes after landslide kills 19 in Yunnan

Updated: 2012-10-09
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Yunnan landslide
Emergency workers clean up a landslide site in Yiliang county, Yunnan province, on Saturday. Following a series of earthquakes across the county last month, a landslide struck Yiliang on Thursday, killing 19 people including 18 schoolchildren.
The 350 schools in the county where 18 elementary students and an adult were killed in a landslide last week have been ordered to suspend classes and undergo safety checks.

A team of 30 officials from the education bureau and still more from the land and resources department in Yiliang county, Yunnan province, has been assembled and charged with carrying out the inspections.

"We'll concentrate on structural safety and the arrangement of students and teachers," said Hong Lichang, deputy director of the county’s education bureau.

"The land and resources department will evaluate places near schools, such as rivers and mountains."

Nineteen people were buried at 8:10 am on Thursday in Zhenhe — a village in Yiliang that just last month had been hit by a series of earthquakes — when about 160,000 cubic meters of earth engulfed a school and three homes and blocked a river, forming an artificial lake that was 15 meters wide and 7 meters deep.

An attempt to rescue the victims only resulted in a confirmation that they were dead.

"Some students after the (earlier) earthquakes were still going to classes in portable dwellings, tents and even damaged buildings, which is a dangerous practice and one that should be subjected to further safety evaluations in the next round of inspections," Hong said.

Following the evaluation, every school in the county will receive a safety report stating whether it is allowed to start holding classes again, he said.

"We’ve also asked and urged officers on duty in these schools to make checks related to fire, health and food safety," he said.

Hong did not explain how students would be enabled to continue their studies at home and said he is not sure when they will return to class.

"It all depends on how much time and work the evaluations take," he said.

"After all, the circumstances are different at every school."

Zhou Litang, a 44-year-old resident of the county, said his two sons returned home on Saturday afternoon and were not told exactly when their classes would resume.

"They were not given homework," he said. "All they can do is just review previous lessons."

He said he is also worried about the safety of their schools, which are surrounded by mountains.

He said his sons’ minds may have also been affected by the landslide and earthquakes, saying they are now afraid to go to school.

Peng Hong, a county publicity official, said the government has given each victim’s family 20,000 yuan ($3,160) in compensation and will help them arrange funerals for their loved ones.

"The reconstruction work has also started, although it’s difficult to do it on a rainy day," he said.

Geological experts have said the landslide resulted from the nearly continuous rain seen in the past month, from the county’s geological conditions and from the recent earthquakes.

Experts and emergency responders from the provincial government and the Ministry of Land and Resources said the area where the disaster occurred received about 297 mm of rain from Sept 1 to Thursday, three times the amount seen during the same period in 2011.

Experts said the earthquake loosened rocks and soil and said the mountain slope where the mudslide originated now poses further risks.


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