China: Parents Wait For Answers On Quake School

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

CHENGDU, China (AP) -- Anguished parents of children killed when a primary school collapsed during China's earthquake last month staged an hourslong sit-in at the school Friday while waiting for the results of an investigation into its construction.

The parents said officials in their town had promised to give them details on how the school was built and why it crumbled so easily in the May 12 quake, which killed more than 69,000 people in Sichuan province in China's worst disaster in three decades.

"They said they would give us answers on June 20," said Huan Zaojun, one of about 150 parents gathered at the Fuxing No. 2 Primary School in the town of Wufu, 45 miles north of the provincial capital Chengdu. Huan's 11-year-old son died in the earthquake.

The parents sat in the shade ignoring pleas from local leader Zhang Qing to board buses that would take them to a larger town nearby to meet government officials.

"If they just go with me to a quieter place ... they would hear the answers," Zhang said. "We have to listen to what they say. They are not going to tell you here."

After a standoff that lasted at least three hours, the parents got on the buses.

In the afternoon, at least two foreign journalists, including an Associated Press reporter who spoke to parents at the school, were detained by police.

A Sichuan foreign affairs department official confirmed the detentions, saying the reporters had broken the law.

"The reporters were working behind police cordons. They had already been notified in English and Chinese that they were not supposed to be there but they remained there. So the police forcibly removed them," said Yuan Hongling.

"They are safe," she added.

Accusations of shoddy school construction has become a major flash point for anger against the government, which has been praised for its reaction to the earthquake.

Parents have protested at numerous schools in the province, calling for explanations as to why schools collapsed so easily while nearby buildings were still standing after the 7.9 magnitude quake.

Huan and other parents were standing near a memorial that contained pictures of their children.

The parents were sensitive to official pressure, and pushed a television crew out of the area that did not have media passes because they thought the crew was from the government.

The scene at the school was calm but tense.

"I don't feel so good waiting so long," said another parent, Pi Kaijian, after waiting several hours without any word.

Sichuan was also bracing Friday for heavy rainstorms that may trigger new landslides, with thunderstorms forecast for Friday through Sunday, according to the provincial weather bureau. This month marks the start of the annual rainy season, which routinely leads to flooding in rivers in provinces downstream.

Landslides are a particular concern because last month's quake caused steep hillsides to shear away and crash into river valleys below. Many slopes remain unstable and are at high risk of being washed away.

Authorities have evacuated more than 110,000 people since Sunday from mountain districts near the quake's epicenter, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The government has already ordered many survivors to move several times because of potential danger from damaged homes, aftershocks and possible flooding from "quake lakes" that formed when huge piles of debris blocked rivers.

Torrential rains have swept much of southern China in the past week, killing at least 63 people, swamping millions of acres of farmland and causing billions of dollars in damage. Low-lying parts of eastern Sichuan have been affected, but there have been no reports of flooding in the quake zone.

This week's heavy rains have submerged farms in the south, but the swollen rivers largely spared the tens of thousands of factories in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province - a huge producer of computers, shoes, toys and other products for the global market.

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