Friday, May 16, 2008

Omens Foretold Central China Killer Quake

A lake that ‘vanished’, an army of frogs and butterflies that migrated, and distinctive cloud patterns... these are the clues to some geological activity that, many Chinese believe, may have presaged the earthquake that killed over 10,000 people in central China on Monday.

The earliest such ‘portent’ surfaced barely two weeks ago in Hubei province, which abuts Sichuan. A local newspaper, Chutian Metropolis Daily, reported that late in April, Guanyin pond, a 100-metre-diameter waterbody with about 80,000 tonnes of water in Enshi city, had dramatically emptied out with a strange sucking sound within four or five hours, leaving only black, gooey slush.

Stunned villagers walked into the dried-up pond and secured the large ‘beached’ fish that were floundering around, the report said.

According to municipal records, such an occurrence had been reported thrice earlier — in 1949, 1976 and 1989 — and each time it had been accompanied by tectonic shifts. (In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded; in 1976, Chairman Mao Zedong died, and China’s worst earthquake, in Tangshan, occurred, killing over 250,000 people; and in 1989, China witnessed a political upheaval following the Tiananmen protests.)

“We didn’t know what to make of it this time,” a villager was quoted as saying.

Then, on May 10, the West China Metropolis Daily, in Sichuan, reported that an army of toads was seen migrating from their traditional habitats in Mianyang in the province. In trying to cross a busy road, hundreds of them were run over by vehicles, it added. A similar toad migration was reported from far-away Jiangsu province on the east coast; likewise, a migration of butterflies was reported in Mianzhu village, also in Sichuan.

Other Internet posts in the days leading up to the quake claimed to offer scientific validation of other kinds of geological activity that, in the estimation of geologists, pointed to a worrisome build-up of seismic stresses. In one post, a person stated: “I’ve seen earthquake clouds (the distinctive cloud patterns that are caused by tectonic plate shifts)...I wonder where a powerful earthquake will strike today or tomorrow.”

Another post, purportedly from a geologist, claimed that he had predicted a seismic event, but had been forbidden to release the information “for fear of creating panic.”

Barely days before the earthquake, the website of the Abeizhou Seismic Bureau of the Sichuan provincial government had put out a notice assuring people that ‘rumours’ of an impending earthquake – which were by then circulating freely — were to be disbelieved.

Curiously, that government notice, which was proved spectacularly wrong by the killer quake – has since been removed, pointing to an inept attempt at covering up perceived official negligence.

In a country that claims to have successfully ‘predicted’ earlier earthquakes by studying animal behaviour patterns, it isn’t any wonder that such claims – with a mix of half-baked geological facts and pure mumbo-jumbo – have gained ground.

Chinese seismology officials have moved to end speculation about whether early warning signs to the earthquake were ignored. On Tuesday, at a press conference by State Council officials, an official responded to just such a question by saying: “Such kind of speculation is entirely unreasonable.”

A geophysicist commentator concurs. “Predicting earthquakes is far from being an exact science,” he says. “Yes, there are indicators that an earthquake is close, but the majority of the time nothing happens. To say that evacuations should have been organised based on these portents is ludicrous. To this day, nobody has come up with a scientific way to predict earthquakes.” (DNA)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

No omen...just natural signs of nature. Get the facts.

4:14 AM GMT+8  

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