Earthquake in Tibet

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Tibet earthquake kills over 2,000

An earthquake of magnitude 7.1 hit Tibet at 07:49 local time on Wednesday 14 April.

Official Chinese figures put the death toll at 2,698, and some 12,000 have been reported injured. Media reports have stated that the quake took place in China, but Yushu (Jyekundo in Tibetan) was previously part of Tibet, and most of its citizens are Tibetan.

Since the quake, Tibetans have protested against government reconstruction plans, fearing they will lose their land.

The epicentre of the quake is about 50km west of Jiegu Township, according to the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua. Jiegu is the main town in Yushu, a Tibetan-populated area in the eastern Tibetan area of Kham (Chinese province: Qinghai). The Chinese government considers Yushu as a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

The US Geological Survey, reported that the initial quake was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks: ten minutes after the first quake a second quake of 5.3 magnitude struck. That quake was followed two minutes later by a quake of 5.2 magnitude. Another quake measuring 5.8 was recorded at 9.25am local time. Sky news has reported that 18 aftershocks in total followed the initial quake.

Free Tibet’s Director Stephanie Brigden who worked in Yushu and knows the area well said:

“ The buildings along the main road are concrete blocks which have probably toppled like dominos, in the surrounding back streets there are more traditional wooden Tibetan homes which we hope have been able to withstand the earthquake. We already know hundreds are dead, many more injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by this earthquake and their families and friends living in exile who will be frantically waiting for news. Military presence in Tibetan towns, even in remote areas like Yushu has been increasing since the Spring protests in 2008. Their presence has been intimidating and has allowed the state to respond quickly to quash protests. We are encouraged that in response to the tragedy the military have been mobilised to assist in search and rescue.”

Xinhua has reported one local official in Jiegu as saying that more than 85% of the houses had collapsed following the series of quakes and that large cracks had appeared on the buildings that remained standing. A local government website reports that the county’s population was measured at 89,300 in 2005, mostly Tibetan herders and farmers. Yushu is close to the source of three rivers on the Tibetan Plateau. The BBC has reported that many local people have fled in to the mountains amid concerns that a nearby dam at the headwaters of the three rivers could burst. The BBC cited official state media as reporting that local officials were attempting to drain a reservoir after a crack appeared in the dam wall. China is building a string of dams across the headwaters of major Asian rivers which have their sources on the Tibetan Plateau to address future water shortages. The presence of a growing number of dams in an area prone to earthquakes received significant media attention following a huge earthquake that struck Sichuan province in 2008. The BBC reported that soldiers had been sent to the area to help with the rescue effort in the first instance and that 5,000 specialist quake rescuers have been despatched to Yushu. There is a significant military presence in the area as China has sent thousands of additional troops into the area following Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in 2008 that have continued sporadically since.

Since the earthquake, China's determination to politicise the disaster has become increasingly apparent and Tibetans have objected to the reconstruction plans, which appear to have been carried out without consultation with the local people.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama offers his condolences to the victims of the earthquake in Kyigudo

April 14th 2010

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and property as a result of the earthquake that struck Kyigudo (Chinese - Yushu) this morning.

We pray for those who have lost their lives in this tragedy and their families and others who have been affected. A special prayer service is being held at the main temple (Tsuglagkhang) here at Dharamsala on their behalf.
It is my hope that all possible assistance and relief work will reach these people. I am also exploring how I, too, can contribute to these efforts.

An earlier statement, published on the website of the Tibetan government in exile, was made by the Kashag on the earthquake:

Kashag Offers Condolence to Earthquake Victims in Tibet

[Wednesday, 14 April 2010, 2:25 p.m.]

We are deeply saddened by news reports which says that an earthquake has struck north-eastern Tibet with its epicentre in Kyigudo (Chinese-Yushu).

The Kashag would like to offer its sincere condolence to the families of those who lost their lives. We pray that people affected by the earthquake will receive timely rescue effort and assistance and will face this tragedy with fortitude.

The Kashag statement can also be read here
The AP article can be read here
The Asia Sentinel article on the aftermath can be read here
The Economist article can be read here
The BBC report and video can be seen here
The Guardian report can be read here