BEIJING (AFP) — China announced Friday it had launched a probe into why school buildings collapsed in the earthquake, warning that anyone found to have been responsible for shoddy construction would be punished.
Close to 7,000 schools were destroyed in southwestern Sichuan province by Monday's 7.9-magnitude earthquake, which struck in the afternoon when many students were in class or taking their daily naps.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said that the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has "ordered local authorities to investigate the reasons why school buildings collapsed in the earthquake."
"If quality problems do exist in the school buildings, we will deal with the persons responsible strictly with no toleration and give the public a satisfying answer," education ministry official Han Jin said, quoted by Xinhua.
"We want to express our deepest condolences to the teachers and students who lost their precious lives in the quake," he said.
Numerous reports have emerged from Sichuan province of crushed schools that have killed large numbers of pupils, a loss made all the more painful as China has a policy of allowing families to have only one child each.
In one of the rare pieces of good news, an AFP reporter in the cut-off city of Yingxiu on Thursday witnessed rescuers pulling a semi-conscious 11-year-old girl out of the rubble of her primary school.
But well over half of the 500 students at her school are believed to have died in the disaster.
The government has also drawn up evacuation plans amid concerns that dams in areas hit by this week's earthquake could collapse if rain there persist.
The Ministry of Land and Natural Resources has ordered local governments in southwestern China to draw up plans to evacuate residents, the China Business News reported, amid forecasts of showers in the area.
The risk is particularly acute in devastated areas of Sichuan province such as Wenchuan and Beichuan counties near the earthquake epicentre, it said.
"Due to the serious disaster situation in Wenchuan, Beichuan and surrounding areas, the hidden dangers going forward are great," it quoted ministry experts as saying.
The government warned on Thursday of "dangerous situations" at more than 400 reservoirs in southwestern China following the quake, according to state media reports.
China's top economic planning agency said Friday it had allocated 53 million yuan (7.6 million dollars) in emergency funds to assess and repair damaged dams and reservoirs, Xinhua news agency said.
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