We have been here before. One teacher's story yesterday of how her school collapsed in the Qinghai earthquake provoked a shiver of awful recognition.
The story in Yushu was eerily reminiscent of one that unfolded in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, during its terrible quake in 2008, where up to 300 children died after Juyuan middle school folded in on itself as buildings all around stayed standing: a truly grotesque sight.
I remember thinking, as rescuers pulled young bodies from the sludge two years ago, that the only possible good that could come out of such a terrible event would be if it led to a re-examination of all schools in earthquake zones in China to make sure they would not fold like a house of cards during future tremors. It will be interesting to see if any lessons were learnt from the earthquake in 2008.
Reports yesterday suggested that most buildings, not just schools, had been affected in the last quake. A Chinese charity worker in Qinghai said most of the schools in Yushu had been built fairly recently and should have been able to withstand the quake.
Unlike the area hit yesterday, Dujiangyan is a relatively wealthy town and is close to the infrastructure necessary to mount a successful relief effort – a good road network, functioning airport, and lots of soldiers and emergency workers at hand from the nearby provincial capital. It is going to be a lot harder for the people of Yushu County, which is a lot more remote than Sichuan and where it will be difficult to get the help to the area in similar volumes.
In the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake, one of the most politically sensitive aspects was the conflict between bereaved parents and the government over the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren killed by collapsing schools. There was a widespread belief that local officials had scrimped on safety costs to enrich themselves. Many of the parents were treated appallingly, some were jailed for seeking answers.
The Qinghai earthquake has an additional political dimension as the citizens of Yushu are mostly Tibetans, and many independence activists see Qinghai as part of Tibet, which runs counter to Beijing's view that Tibet is an inalienable part of China.