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In China, Questions Over Landslide that Killed 18 Children

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This picture taken on October 4, 2012 shows rescuers searching for victims after a landslide, triggered by sustained rains, buried a school and three farmhouses in Yiliang, southwest China’s Yunnan province. (AFP/Getty Images)

A landslide in remote, rural Yunnan Province in China smashed into a primary school, crushing it, and killing 18 schoolchildren. Many Chinese Internet users who saw the news asked how it could have happened. 

The landslide took place in the village of Zhenhe in Yiliang County—the same county that was rocked in an series of earthquakes last month—while students were catching up on studying at the Tiantou Primary School during the country’s National Day on Thursday, reported state-run Xinhua, citing local officials. A local villager was also buried.

It was later confirmed on Friday that 18 children were killed in the incident, while one villager is still missing and another was severely injured, state media reported.

The children had missed school after quakes hit the area last month, killing 81 people and destroying several villages, state media said. Apparently, the ones who were killed in the landslide arrived to school early.

A nearby river was also blocked by the landslide, which was said to have been triggered by heavy rains, which formed a small lake, forcing around 800 people who live downstream to flee, officials said.

Around 2,000 people were mobilized to remove the barrier lake and help in the rescue efforts, according to Xinhua, which estimated that the school was buried by around 160,000 tons of earth. Video footage showed emergency workers digging the school out with shovels.

Users on Chinese social media sites, including the popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform, reignited criticism against shoddy construction and infrastructure throughout China. They blamed the Chinese regime for building schools and other structures in the cheapest and quickest way, while sacrificing the overall quality.

Many wondered why the children were at school on a holiday.

Another angle of the landslide that hit Yunnan Province. (AFP/Getty Images)

“Are the students still at school when the whole country are enjoying the holiday? Who asked them to go to this dangerous school?” questioned Weibo user Chen Yin of Shenzhen.

More specifically, other Weibo users questioned why the children were attending school in a disaster area following last month’s quakes. “This was completely avoidable!” one exclaimed.

During the 2008 earthquake that hit nearby Sichuan Province and killed 80,000, many blamed the destruction and deaths on bad building design. In particular, they honed in on the numerous schools that collapsed.

“Such tragedies always happen to schools in poor mountainous areas. These tragedies will not end if officials do not solve the infrastructure problems,” said Satuodaiyan Gai, a Weibo user also from Shenzhen. If these government officials were “less corrupt and focused on construction, the innocent lives of citizens will not suffer so much,” said another user, “MoMoStyle,” of Wuhan.

Many Weibo users also expressed grief over the incident.

An official with the Yiliang Education Bureau told the AFP news agency: “Youfang is one of the schools that has resumed classes. I have no more details.” Another official, surnamed Yang, said that “the school is just one single-story teaching building.”

Yunnan, which borders Laos, Vietnam, and Burma, is one of the poorest provinces in China, much of it undeveloped and mountainous.

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