HONG KONG—China has sacked 15 government officials from regions of southwestern Sichuan province worst-hit by the May 12 earthquake for their handling of the disaster, as grieving parents tell of the long wait for medical help for severely injured children and their suspicions about safety standards in school buildings.
The sacked officials ranked from village Party chief to deputy municipal civil affairs bureau chief and were blamed for their tardy response to the quake and malfeasance in later relief work, the organization department of the provincial Party committee said.
Residents of Shifang city, one of the worst hit by the 7.9-magnitude tremor that killed more than 60,000 people, took video of harrowing scenes outside the Hongbai township primary school, in which bodies of schoolchildren lay apparently lifeless on the school forecourt against a background of wails and calls from children still trapped under the collapsed building.
"Local residents rushed to the scene to try to save the children," a resident surnamed Ye said.
"Some were pulled out, others they couldn't reach. I saw little children alive and trapped calling for their mommy and daddy, but there was no way to save them. The hospital in our local township had only a very limited set of equipment," she said.
Parents across southwestern China are struggling to hold local officials accountable for allegedly shoddy construction standards in school buildings that collapsed during the earthquake.
'Illegal' school buildings
One parent at Hanwang Central Primary School near Mianzhu city, whose 10-year-old son was buried under rubble, said parents were told at school-parent meeting a year ago that the school buildings were illegal.
"About a year ago they already regarded the school buildings as dangerous," Wang said. "A few years ago the school said this was an illegal building, and the government said they would rectify the situation."
"Nothing was done, but the students sat in classrooms in that building every day. "
More than 200 children and teachers were killed when the primary school collapsed in the earthquake.
A spokesman from the propaganda office of the Sichuan provincial education department questioned the source of the evaluation of the building. "The education authorities at national level have already organized a team of experts to investigate. We did not know the building was illegal. Illegal buildings are not supposed to be used."
"We never heard that the school consisted of illegal buildings," he said.
Wang Chunlin, a teacher at the school, said the parents were trying to prevent the government-appointed experts from investigating the building.
"The experts have not done the investigation yet. The parents do not trust the government-appointed experts, and it’s difficult for the experts to get access to the site."
"My daughter is no longer here and my life is not important any more. If my cancer comes back next month, just let it be. I am 36 years old. Do you think I can still find a husband? I still can get a good job?"
Slow rescue response
In Shifang, Ye said rescue teams didn't reach the area until May 15, by which time many of the severely injured children had died.
"There were some people who we saved from the rubble, but who then couldn't be shipped out to the city for treatment," said Ye, whose husband is missing, presumed dead under a massive landslide caused by the quake.
"There were no cars going in either direction, and no rescue teams came," she said.
The official news agency Xinhua said the sacked officials comprised seven from Dujiangyan city, six from Mianyang city and two from Maoxian county.
"Their malpractice has had a very bad influence on the general public," it quoted an official with the provincial Party organization department as saying.
A further 13 officials also received punishment for their wrongdoing on quake relief, the official said, without elaborating.
Crackdown on 'malfeasance'
He said 50 grassroots officials were also promoted for their outstanding performances involving quake victim rescue, evacuation and resettlement.
Beijing issued a statutory set of guidelines May 29 providing for the punishment of malpractice and fraud involving quake relief funding and supplies. The regulations prohibit embezzlement and fraud in the distribution of relief, the trading of relief goods and other official malfeasance.
Parents in Juyuan township, near Dujiangyan, are struggling to file lawsuits against local officials for allowing the town's schools to be constructed using sub-standard workmanship. They say corruption is responsible for the collapse of the school buildings in the earthquake.
At least 280 students and teachers died when Juyuan Middle School collapsed during the quake, but local authorities have prevented the media from speaking to angry parents, saying they are "emotionally unstable."
Chen Wende, whose daughter was a junior high-school student at Juyuan Middle School, recalled the day the school collapsed: "When the earthquake hit here, I rushed to the school. I help to dig. It was I who dug her out with my own hands."
"It was very sad. My kid was a good kid and obedient. I think of her all the time. Very sad. Whenever her name is mentioned, I feel sad and my mood becomes very bad. It was really the death of an innocent," Chen said.
Another parent, Dong Tianqun, said: "My daughter is no longer here and my life is not important any more. If my cancer comes back next month, just let it be. I am 36 years old. Do you think I can still find a husband? I still can get a good job?"
The Juyuan parents are expecting a decision this week from officials about whether their case will be accepted through official complaints channels.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Li Youngtim. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.