CHINA DAILY SCIENCE Tuesday, April 28 1998

Students in Qinglong County had classes outdoors as the Great Tangshen Earthquake neared.

Preparedness cuts loss

By Wang Yong

When a strong earthquake killed 240,000 people in Tangshan in 1976, an adjacent county escaped unscathed.

All 470,000 residents of Qinglong County in the northeast corner of Tangshan survived the magnanimous 7.8-degree quake except for one, who died of a heart attack.

But even in Beijing, which is further away from Tangshan than Qinglong, hundreds of people were killed by the Great Tangshan Earthquake (GTE).

Qinglong, or blue dragon in Chinese, was not invincible. More than 180,000 buildings were destroyed, among which 7,000 totally collapsed.

Wang Chunqing, the county official in charge of disaster management, was the hero. He mobilized local people to react more quickly to future earthquakes, for there had been no formal warning from the central and provincial governments before the quake hit.

Wang had just attended a five-day conference organized by the State Seismological Bureau (now China Seismological Bureau) where scientists discussed the possibility of a strong quake in the Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan-Bohai-Zhangjiakou region in early July 1976. Few except Wang took detailed notes. Before 3:42 am on July 28, 1976, when GTE struck, Wang's people were prepared.

Qinglong's story is regarded by the United Nations as one of the most successful examples of preparedness minimizing disaster losses.

Qinglong's case has galvanized a new UN programme to mitigate losses by giving local officials greater access to whatever information is available about quakes, especially when there is a lack of government warning.

The UN Global Programme, established in January 1996, seeks to build a bridge between government administration and scientific research by promoting community awareness.