|A total of 5,335 students in Sichuan dead or missing from May 12 earthquake(05/07/09)|
by Xinhua writer Bai Xu
CHENGDU, May 7 (Xinhua) -- China released the number of students killed or missing in the southwestern Sichuan province on Thursday, almost a year after the May 12 massive quake jolted the region.
A total of 5,335 students in Sichuan were confirmed as dead or missing from the earthquake, said Tu Wentao, head of the education department of the province at a press conference.
Another 546 students were disabled as a result of the disaster in the southwestern province, Tu said.
Huang Yong from Leigu Township, Beichuan County said he was surprised at the announcement.
"I thought that the government wouldn't touch such a sensitive topic as the one-year anniversary of the quake is approaching," said Huang, 42, whose 10th-grade son Huang Yiran was killed in the collapse of the Beichuan Middle School.
"Releasing the number is a reply for the ill-fated kids," he said.
His view was shared by villager Chen Dingfu from Longtou Village, also in Beichuan.
"This is great progress ... the government has never released the number of dead students before," he said.
Thousands of schools collapsed in Sichuan in the magnitude 8.0 quake last May. Statistics from the provincial education department showed that 3,340 schools needed to be rebuilt after the earthquake.
Criticism arose for poor quality of school construction. Many bereaved parents took to the streets, questioning construction quality and demanding a reply from local governments.
Sichuan Province has pledged to have 95 percent of the students back in school buildings, rather than tents or prefabricated structures, before the end of this year. All students should be in regular school buildings by next spring. And stronger school buildings are being built.
China's national legislature amended the Law on Precautions Against Earthquake and Relief of Disaster last year, which says schools and hospitals must be designed to stand strong earthquakes. School buildings should stand quakes of at least 8.0.The new law took effect last Friday.
However, these moves did not comfort some grieving parents.
"We are too old to have children any more," Chen said. "It was hard to raise our children. Now that they are gone, we need to find out how the school buildings collapsed."
The release of the death toll seems to have encouraged him.
"I expect the government to launch a thorough investigation into school building quality."
Huang said: "If there is a quality problem with school buildings, those who are responsible must be punished."
At the press conference, Yang Hongbo, head of the construction department of the province, said that a group of 2,500 experts had investigated the quality issue. They had found that the quake was too strong for the old buildings in Sichuan, most of which were designed for quakes no stronger than 7 magnitude.
He reiterated the pledge that "we will investigate and severely punish relevant companies according to the law once there is concrete evidence to prove problems existing in building design and construction."
A bereaved mother who declined to be identified had another wish.
"I hope the names of the dead children could be publicized," she said. "I want more people to know that my daughter lived in this world for seven years. I want them to know her name."