» 05/30/2008, 00.00
Sichuan: corruption alleged in collapse of school on 9,000 students
For the first time, official sources admit that buildings were built poorly. Meanwhile, work continues around the clock to dig a drainage channel for the waters of the lake threatening 1.3 million people. Beijing thanks Taiwan for aid, and arrests those who criticise the government over the earthquake.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Hundreds of soldiers have already removed 70,000 tonnes of earth and debris, and have dug at least one third of the channel to drain the waters of lake Tangjiashan, the largest of the 35 new lakes created by the quake. Meanwhile, official sources admit that the schools in Sichuan toppled by the earthquake were poorly constructed.
A race against time is on to dig a drainage channel for the water, fed by the flow of the river Jian, before the pressure collapses the natural stone and earth dam, flooding the city of Mianyang and its 1.3 million inhabitants, about 190,000 of whom have already been evacuated to higher ground. The rain is hampering the work, sticking the bulldozers in the mud and interfering with the helicopters. According to Xinhua, the water is still 23 metres below the lower edge of the dam, and Zhou Hua, a Mianyang official, says that "the situation is under control". The press have also reported, citing environmental protection sources, that the lake also contains 5,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals, like sulphuric and hydrochloric acid.
Meanwhile, Lin Qiang, deputy inspector of Sichuan's education department, has for the first time acknowledged that corruption may have contributed to the poor construction of the schools that collapsed, burying more than 9,000 students and teachers, out of the total of about 68,500 confirmed victims (while there are 20,000 "missing"). The parents of the victims are protesting that the schools collapsed, while the surrounding buildings held up.
Chen Baosheng, who is investigating the collapse for the construction ministry, has confirmed that the Juyuan middle school in Dujiangyan was poorly constructed. Hundreds of young people died there. Chen says there was too little steel to reinforce the cement, and the support beams were set up badly, to the point that "it was entirely foreseeable that such a building would collapse in an earthquake. It would've been strange if it hadn't".
Today, Beijing expressed its "happiness" at receiving "generous aid" for the earthquake from its rival Taiwan, confirming the new political climate that saw yesterday's agreement to resume talks, suspended for about 10 years. In recent days, Taipei had complained about the rejection of aid. But today Yang Yi, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, expressed thanks and confirmed that China will accept the 800 million yuan (80 million euros) in money and supplies offered by the Taiwan government and businessmen, many of whom work in China.
In spite of the media's openness in providing news about the earthquake, it is still "dangerous" to criticise the authorities. On May 28, Guo Quan was set free, after being detained for 10 days for articles critical toward the government. Guo wrote that Beijing ignored the warning signs before the earthquake, and that the authorities should have been concerned immediately about the new lake, when the water was still low.
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