China Earthquakes: Learning from the past Tangshan (1976) & Sichuan (2008) Wikimedia Commons image by miniwiki and licensed for use under the Creative Commons License. The Tangshan Earthquake, 1976 At 3.42am on the 28th July, 1976 a massive earthquake of magnitude 7.8 on the Richter Scale hit the town of Tangshan in north-eastern China. There were also violent aftershocks. The city was flattened and 240,000 people were killed. In the decades after the quake estimates of the death toll have been 500,000 or more. It is believed to be the largest death toll from an earthquake in the 20th Century. Map adapted from Wikimedia Commons Location of Tangshan, north-east China China Why did so many people die? The earthquake happened while people slept, so most had no time to act. Most of Tangshan's residents lived in one-storey brick buildings with sturdy concrete roofs which collapsed almost instantly, trapping and crushing people beneath. Most people died in this way. Tangshan was thought to be a relatively low risk area so very few buildings had been built to withstand an earthquake. The city rested on alluvial soil making the ground even more unstable during the quake. In the quake, rescue officers and men of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) did not have any large-size equipment or tools. They rescued quake victims from under the debris with their bare hands. Image by Flickr user entropy and licensed for use under Creative Commons License. The Sichuan earthquake, 2008 An earthquake struck Sichuan Province in western China at 2.28pm on the 12th May, 2008. The earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter Scale with tremors felt as far as Beijing. The epicentre of the quake was in the area of Wenchuan in Sichuan Province. The quake killed about 70,000 people and left 18,000 missing. 2 chemical plants collapsed and communications near the epicentre were cut off. Troops and rescue teams worked using machinery to dig out survivors. China Sichuan Province Wenchuan Why did so many people die? The quake happened in the middle of the day when schools, factories and offices were full. Official Chinese reports soon after the quake said that 10,000 students died in the collapse of 7,000 classrooms. The quake happened in a high risk area near to a major fault line. Scientists believe that the huge nearby manmade reservoir may have triggered the quake. Wikimedia Commons image by miniwiki and licensed for use under the Creative Commons License. After the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, stricter codes of building were introduced. However, after so many schools collapsed, questions have been raised about how strictly these codes have been enforced. The relief effort was held back by torrential rain and the scale of the disaster.