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Official: Quality Problems Possible in School Buildings

There were "quality problems" with some school buildings damaged during the catastrophic earthquakes in southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12, an official said on Thursday.

The problems could have happened because some school rooms were built too fast without regard to quality in recent years, Ma Zongjin, director of the the National Wenchuan Earthquake Expert Committee, said at a press briefing on the evaluation of the earthquake aftermath.

It is feared the death toll in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake centered in Wenchuan County, Sichuan, will top 87,000. Many victims were students killed in collapsed buildings.

This has aroused wide suspicion and anger over shoddy construction and substandard materials allegedly used to build schools. The Chinese government has also promised to investigate the issue.

Various factors might work jointly to damage thousands of school buildings in the earthquake area, such as the intensity of the quake, and poor design, Ma said.

For example, if the roof of a classroom is too wide, it will be too weak to withstand strong quakes, he said.

Prof. Shi Peijun with the committee said among 845.1 billion yuan (about US$121 billion) in direct economic losses for the May 12 earthquake, 20.4 percent came from damaged essential public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Ma said the Ministry of Construction sent more than 2,000 experts to areas affected by the earthquake to investigate.

"The earthquake was so powerful and destructive in some areas that not only school buildings, but office and residential buildings were all damaged," he said.

But poor design by architects and the use of substandard building materials might also have played a role in the massive destruction, he said.

"It is possible there were problems with those buildings, because there has been a rush of construction of schools recently, " he said.

Ma said the investigation would provide guidelines for reconstruction of schools and hospitals in future.

(Xinhua News Agency September 5, 2008)

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