Thu, Jan 15, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Quake parents seek answers to school collapses

AP , BEIJING

Nine Chinese parents whose children died when their classrooms crumbled in the Sichuan earthquake last year said yesterday they will keep pursuing the government until they know why their school gave way.

Questions about shoddy construction methods have become a flashpoint for government critics after the 7.9-magnitude quake killed nearly 70,000 people in May, including many students crushed to death when their schools fell.

The parents arrived in Beijing from Sichuan this week to petition the Communist Party’s Central Committee for Discipline Inspection.

They said they represented the families of 126 children who died when the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in Mianzhu city collapsed.

“It has already been eight months since the earthquake, but there is still no news on what happened,” said Liu Xiaoying, 35, as she waited in line early yesterday for the committee’s petition office to open. “This will allow our children to rest in peace.” Liu’s 12-year-old daughter and only child, Bi Yuexin, was among the children who died when the school’s three-story classroom building collapsed.

“We are hoping that the party’s central committee will investigate the question of building construction quality because we believe it had to do with the deaths of our children,” Liu said as she held out her mobile phone to show a picture of her daughter.

“No other building around the area collapsed. The teachers’ office didn’t fall. Even a Qing dynasty mud wall didn’t fall,” she said.

Thousands of children are believed to have died in their classrooms during the quake but there is no official toll. The government says 70,000 people died in Sichuan province and 7,000 classrooms were destroyed, but has avoided releasing a detailed breakdown of the fatalities.

While the government has promised an investigation and strict punishment for those responsible for the bad construction, there have been no public attempts to hold anyone to account. Marches and sit-ins by grieving parents held within months of the quake were broken up by police, with some parents briefly detained.

This was the second time the parents have traveled to Beijing to seek help from higher authorities. Nothing came of their first attempt two months ago, said another parent, Chen Qiying.

“The last time there were four of us. Today, nine of us came. Next time there will be even more,” said Chen, the mother of Chen Yida, who was 10 when he died in the same school.

It was not immediately known if the parents’ petition was accepted because their mobile phones were turned off later yesterday.

In September, a Chinese government scientist acknowledged that a rush to build schools in recent years likely led to construction flaws that caused so many of them to collapse — the first official admission that low building standards may have been behind the student deaths.

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