1976 Tangshan earthquake

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Many buildings were flattened into rubble when the earthquake hit.
The Tangshan earthquake (Chinese: 唐山大地震; Pinyin: tángshān dà dìzhèn) of July 28, 1976 is one of the largest earthquakes to hit the modern world, in terms of the loss of life. The epicentre of the earthquake was near Tangshan in Hebei, China, an industrial city with approximately one million inhabitants. The earthquake left 242,419 people dead, according to official figures, though some sources offer estimates as high as 750,000 . A further 164,581 people were recorded as being severely injured. The earthquake came in a series of events which shook China both literally and figuratively in 1976, which was later labeled a year of curse.

The earthquake hit in the early morning, at 03:42:53.8 local time (1976 July 27 19:42:53.8 UTC), and lasted for around 15 seconds. Chinese Government's official sources state 7.8 on the Richter magnitude scale, though some sources list it as 8.2[]. The USGS recorded it as magnitude 7.5[1].

It was followed by a major 7.1 magnitude aftershock some 15 hours later, increasing the death toll. It was the first earthquake in recent history to score a direct hit on a major city.[2]

Early warnings

Many people in Tangshan reported seeing strange lights (so-called "earthquake lights") the night before the earthquake. Well water in a village outside of Tangshan reportedly rose and fell three times the day before the earthquake. Gas began to spout out of a well in another village on July 12 and then increased on July 25 and July 26.

It has been reported that animals in the area sensed the earthquake before it struck. A thousand chickens reportedly refused to eat and acted wildly, along with several hundred geese who reportedly tried to eat each other in desperation and frustration, and sheer terror. Most animals in the city did in fact survive.[3]

Prediction

More than half a month before the earthquake struck, the analytic and prediction team of the Chinese National Earthquake Bureau had already concluded that an earthquake of magnitude at least 5.0 (with much greater magnitude was highly likely) would strike Tangshan for certain sometimes between July 22, 1976 to August 5, 1976. However, the deputy director of the Chinese National Earthquake Bureau in charge of a conference at the time prohibited Mr. Wang Chengmin (汪成民), the team leader in charge of Beijing-Tianjin region from publicizing any information on the prediction under order because of political reasons: the Gang of Four would view any such warnings as class enemy's attempt to viciously attacking the socialism and the Cultural Revolution. As a result, Mr. Wang Chengmin (汪成民) had to privately provide the warning as his own private opinion in the evening after the formal conference had concluded.

Qinglong County Damage Prevention

One county in the Tangshan area was warned about the earthquake up to two years in advance [4] when an employee of Scientific & Technological Committee of Green Dragon (Qinglong, 青龙) County, a 22-year old young scientist, Mr. Wang Qingchun (王青春) who was in charge of earthquake prevention at the committee was present when Mr. Wang Chengmin (汪成民) voiced the warning concluded by the research team, and immediately left to return to the county to spread the words. The county communist party secretary in charge, Mr. Ran Guangqi (冉广岐) decided to risk his political career and certain jail term to prepare the 400,000 residents of the county for the upcoming earthquake by ordering officials to educate the people in the area about how to deal with major earthquakes, as well as evacuating the local population to safer areas. As a result of these precautions, not a single life out of the total 400,000 was lost directly to the earthquake. However, there were incidents where seniors had died due to grief induced heart problems when they learned that their family members living in Tangshan were killed.

After the Cultural Revolution, it was revealed that the warrant of for Mr. Ran Guangqi (冉广岐)'s and Mr. Wang Qingchun (王青春)'s arrests were already in the process of being issued to the local police and militia, but the earthquake struck before the orders were carried out and then delayed by the disaster relief effort. Shockingly, just as the initial disaster relief was barely progressing, the list of arrest had increased to include those officials educating the local populace on earthquake prevention, but fortunately, the Gang of Four was arrested in October 1976 and the Cultural Revolution ended, so the warrants of arrests were not carried out.

Damage

The large loss of life caused by the earthquake can be attributed to the time it struck and how suddenly it struck. The earthquake lacked the foreshocks that usually come with earthquakes of this magnitude. It also struck at just before 4 AM, leaving many people unprepared as they lay asleep.

Tangshan itself was thought to be in a region with a relatively low risk of earthquakes. Very few buildings had been built to withstand an earthquake, and the city lies on unstable alluvial soil.

The earthquake devastated the city over an area roughly 4 miles by 5 miles. Many of the people who survived the initial earthquake were trapped under collapsed buildings; a 7.1 magnitude aftershock 15 hours after the initial tremor added to the destruction, and several more aftershocks measuring 5.0 to 5.5 on the Richter scale followed later. 78% of the industrial buildings, 93% of the residential buildings, 80% of the water pumping stations, and 14% of the sewage pipes in Tangshan were destroyed or severely damaged.

The seismic waves spread far, with damage in cities such as Qinhuangdao and Tianjin, and a few buildings as far away as Beijing, 140 km from the epicenter, were damaged. Even people in cities as far away as Xi'an felt the tremors of the earthquake.

Death toll

Deadliest earthquakes
Rank Earthquake Country Year Fatalities
1"Shaanxi"China1556830,000
2"Indian Ocean"nr. Indonesia2004283,100
3"Tangshan"China1976242,000
4"Aleppo"Syria1138230,000
5"Gansu"China1920c. 200,000
The Tangshan earthquake killed 242,419 people according to official figures, though some sources estimate a death toll up to three times higher. This would make it the deadliest earthquake in modern times, and the second or third deadliest in recorded history. The official death toll is almost certainly lower than the actual as the Chinese government has a history of under reporting damages and deaths from natural disasters. It is worth noting that the population of Tangshan of the time of quake strike was estimated to be around 1.6 million. [1] As the whole city was demolished, it would be safe to say the actual death toll is much higher. Due to uncertainties over the number of dead in each case it is not clear whether the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused a greater loss of life than the Tangshan earthquake: the confirmed death toll from the tsunami ranges from 228,000 to 288,000. Other earthquakes that have caused an extreme loss of life since 1900 include:
  • the Great Kantō earthquake which killed 143,000 in Tokyo in 1923; and
  • the Gansu, China earthquake killed 200,000 in 1920.
The deadliest known earthquake in history occurred in 1556 in Shaanxi, China. The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake is estimated to have killed 830,000 people in China, although reliable figures from this period are hard to verify. [2]

Aftermath

The People's Republic of China government refused to accept international aid, and its own efforts were criticized as inadequate. It was also criticized for having ignored scientists' warnings of the need to prepare for an earthquake. However, it should be mentioned that even today, earthquake prediction is still far from accurate. The earthquake came as an event in the continuous "Curse of 1976" in China: it was preceded by the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Zhu De in earlier months and the months later by the death of Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four trying to grab power.

The political repercussions of the disaster and its aftermath contributed to the end of the Cultural Revolution in China [5]. The Gang of Four accused Deng Xiaoping of sabotaging relief efforts as part of its "Criticize Rightist Deviationism" campaign. Mao's chosen successor Hua Guofeng showed concern, thereby solidifying his status as China's paramount leader. He, with Chen Yonggui, made a personal visit to komaron, Tangshan on August 4 to survey the damage. This visit earned him considerable prestige and two months later, he staged what amounted to a coup by arresting the Gang of Four.

Rebuilding infrastructure started immediately in Tangshan, and the city was eventually completely rebuilt. It now houses more than a million people and is known as "Brave City of China."

See also

References

1. ^ Historic Earthquakes: Tangshan, China. U.S. Geological Survey (2007-01-19).
2. ^ The 1976 Tangshan Earthquake.
3. ^ Tangshan Earthquake earthquake prediction - Disaster Research Center
4. ^ [3]
5. ^ [4]

External links

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Tangshan (Chinese: 唐山市; Pinyin: Tángshān shì) is a mainly industrial prefecture-level city in Hebei province, People's Republic of China.
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