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China building rush may have led to weak quake schools: govt

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 4, 2008
Schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake may have been substandard structures hastily built in a construction frenzy, China conceded Thursday, as it said the death toll could top 87,000.

Ma Zongjin, director of the expert committee on the May disaster, said schools could have collapsed because their "structure was not necessarily up to standard," and "the material was not necessarily very strong."

"Because recently, we have built schools quite rapidly, and there could be some construction problems," Ma told reporters.

Around 7,000 schools collapsed in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in southwest China on May 12, often as neighbouring buildings stood intact, leading to the death of thousands of children and causing huge anger among grieving parents.

In one school alone, more than 1,300 children and teachers died or went missing.

Many angry parents are blaming poorly constructed buildings -- and corruption they allege saw funds and materials siphoned off -- leaving schools to be built off what they call "tofu dregs."

More than 2,000 experts went to the quake zone to examine the issue, Ma said, and the government has promised investigations into the design of schools, and punishment for those found guilty of shoddy building work.

Authorities have not revealed exactly how many children died in the earthquake, and an official refused to answer the question on Thursday.

"Detailed data has still not been approved, we will announce it when it is approved, so now we only have data on the number of dead, missing and injured," Shi Peijun, deputy director of the committee, said.

Shi also indicated a revised official death toll could be announced shortly.

Premier Wen Jiabao was reported by state press on Wednesday as saying that the number of dead was more than 80,000, a dramatic increase from the official toll of 69,226 dead and 17,923 missing.

"We believe that the chances that those missing are still alive are slim, and if you put over 69,000 dead and 18,000 missing together, it adds up to more than 87,000 people," Shi said.

He said the State Council and the Disaster Relief Headquarters would soon announce a new official death toll.

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US disaster chief: Don't come home too soon
Baton Rouge, Louisiana (AFP) Sept 3, 2008
Residents of storm-battered Louisiana should wait to return home until authorities give them the all-clear, a top disaster relief aide to US President George W. Bush warned Wednesday.

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