Caixin
Aug 13, 2014 04:56 PM

Yunnan Quake Devoured Mud Brick Homes in Poor County

(Ludian, Yunnan) – On the morning of August 7, a funeral was held in Longtoushan Township, in the southwestern province of Yunnan. The funeral was for four youngsters, all from the Ding family's five children. They were buried in their home made of mud brick when the August 3 earthquake shook northeastern Yunnan.

Ludian County, where Longtoushan is located, suffered the most from quake, which the China Earthquake Administration said had a magnitude of 6.5. The official death toll as of August 7 was 615 people – 526 from Ludian. Another 114 people are missing; 109 of them are from Ludian.

Ma Zhenxian, director of the Ludian County civil affairs bureau, told the media that many people were killed and injured by collapsed buildings. Chen Guoyong, head of Longtoushan County, said 80 percent of the structures that tumbled were houses made of mud brick.

Most of the local homes are two-storey buildings made of packed clay and bricks, with some wood used for support. One villager said that many of the mud brick houses were built more than a decade ago and some poor families have continued building similar homes in recent years.

"It is difficult to survive the collapse of adobe houses," said a local official, who explained that the clay filled every corner of a structure when it fell.

Locals say a quake-resistant home is three times more expensive than a traditional mud brick home. Some villagers have started to build with cement in recent years, but very few used supporting columns that can withstand a strong quake because they wanted to save money.

"In how many years will an earthquake occur?" one villager said. "With limited money, we must save."

Ludian is one of the poorest counties in China. The average annual income for farmers is 4,300 yuan, and nearly 60 percent of the locals live on less than 7 yuan a day.

Because it grows chili peppers, Longtoushan has a better economy than many other townships in Ludian. The richest family there earns 40,000 yuan every year, while most others have annual income of 10,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan.

But Ludian is in an earthquake-prone area; it has been hit by at least 15 quakes with a magnitude of 6.0 or higher over the past 100 years. In 2004, the central government launched projects so buildings in quake-prone rural areas could withstand quakes. Ludian was one of the counties in Yunnan that was emphasized in the projects.

Cai Ming, director of the Ludian trade bureau, told the official Xinhua News Agency that the county government started to offer subsidies to encourage villages to renovate and improve buildings in 2003. Houses that meet quake-resistance standards could get a subsidy of 10,000 yuan.

Also, the Yunnan provincial government started projects to improve the safety of rural buildings in 2007, setting a target of ensuring that all rural buildings be able to resist a magnitude 6.0 quake by 2020.

The province vowed to pay 5,000 yuan to each household that rebuilt homes using higher standards. Those that only renovated could get 2,000 yuan.

But those amounts are not enough for most farmers in Ludian. The average cost of a 60 square meter home that can survive a quake is around 60,000 yuan. The figure hits 100,000 yuan when the cost of demolishing old buildings is added.

As of last year, only 0.08 percent of the quake-resistant buildings that are planned in Ludian were finished, the least among Yunnan's counties.

"Over the past decades, we made some progress in quake-resistance projects, but there are also regrets," one local official said.

The official went on to point out the obvious: the death toll from this quake would have been much lower if there were fewer mud brick homes in the area.

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