Last Saturday a 6.6 magnitude earthquake has rocked the Baoxing County in China’s Sichuan province. It immediately reminded everyone the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 90,000 people around Chengdu city in the very Sichuan province during May 2008.
Five years is too short to forget the devastation as well as the mistakes. In 2008, the then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited the affected area five days later. His newly elected successor, Li Keqiang, has wasted no time and flew to the devastated zone. He has been quoted by Reuters:
The first 72 hours is the golden period for rescue,” Li told officials, the Xinhua news agency reported. “We cannot delay by a minute. Under the strong leadership of the party and the government, as long as we unite as one, and conduct the rescue in a scientific way, then there will be the conditions and the ability to minimize the losses to the greatest degree and to overcome the disaster,” Li said.
Telecommunication became vital to the coordination of relief operations. And within six hours of the Saturday’s quake, Internet and phone connections were partially restored in Baoxing county. But ongoing aftershocks and devastated roads have hindered the restoration works.
By late afternoon China’s big three carriers said phone calls, text messaging and roaming services would be free in quake-stricken areas. They advised people to use text messaging instead of making calls, as it requires less bandwidth. China Daily has elaborately reported:
“We have been preparing and upgrading our emergency plans to deal with events since the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake,” said Li Jun, deputy director of information services at China Mobile. “The emergency restoration plan was designed for such disasters.”
Meanwhile, the German news outlet, Deutsche Welle, has highlighted the power of Internet:
With more than 500 million users, Weibo – the Internet equivalent of Twitter in China – has become the country’s principal social media forum. It coexists with the state media and, in many cases, is seen to hold the government and authorities to account in a way that the official media cannot.
Information about how people could themselves rescue friends and neighbors hit by the quake was also quickly spread through forums like Weibo. There were other ideas about what should be done; people should not use cell phones more than necessary so that relief efforts were not compromised; tolls for highways to the affected areas should be suspended and clinics should treat the injured for free and public buildings should, where necessary, be opened up for the needy. Where these appeals were not heeded, those involved were immediately pilloried via Weibo.
Users are by and large agreed that the influence of social networks has grown significantly since the 2008 quake. As one Weibo user wrote: “Is this not an encouraging step forward?”