Sichuan earthquake: China's government praised for swifter reaction than 2008 quake


Rescuers sit on ruins of a house in Longmen township, an area very close to the epicenter of an earthquake that hit the city of Ya'an, southwest China's Sichuan province on April 20, 2013.

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HONG KONG — As recovery efforts continue despite landslides and aftershocks, Chinese state media report that the death toll from Saturday's earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province has reached 188, with more than 11,000 injured. Twenty-one people remain missing.

The 6.6 magnitude earthquake leveled homes across rural Lushan county, a remote area known for its green, foggy mountains and populations of wild pandas.

The disaster prompted a swift response from China's central government. Within hours of the earthquake, Premier Li Keqiang had flown from Beijing to the disaster area, visiting children and injured farmers in the hospital. The People's Liberation Army deployed more than 1,000 air force soldiers to conduct ground rescue operations.

Traffic snarls and scattered supply shortages have hampered relief efforts to some extent. Still, Beijing's response has earned cautious praise, particularly compared with its handling of the disastrous 2008 earthquake, which occurred along the same fault line in Sichuan. Nearly 90,000 people perished then, thousands of them schoolchildren crushed under schools so shoddily constructed that they were compared to "tofu dregs." Grieving parents accused local officials of corruption and cutting corners, setting off a storm of criticism of the government.

It remains unclear how many schoolhouses collapsed during Saturday's earthquake, however.

Over the last two days, Chinese social media has been full of touching accounts of heroes and survivors from Sichuan. Thousands shared a poignant photo of Yang Shuangmei, a mother who died shielding her son from debris.

Others applauded reporter Chen Ying, who appeared on camera in her wedding dress to report live from the scene. A young college student was jokingly celebrated for taking the time to save his pet turtle, along with several pricey laptops and digital cameras, before fleeing his dorm.

Of course, there also have been tales of less-than-heroic behavior. Scammers seeking to make a quick buck have set up fraudulent phone donation lines, according to the South China Morning Post. And on Weibo, China's Twitter, people mocked an official in Sichuan who removed his luxury watch before showing up at a rescue site, presumably to avoid criticism on Weibo.