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Forearmed by Sichuan, military response swift
south china morning post|
The military's swift reaction to the fatal earthquake in the Tibetan-populated prefecture in Qinghai is a big contrast with that to the Sichuan earthquake two years ago.
The People's Liberation Army Daily said the PLA and armed police force had sent about 6,400 soldiers between them to Yushu county in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture by yesterday afternoon, just 12 hours after the quake, along with at least seven aircraft from land, air and naval forces.
The daily said nearly 1,000 disaster relief experts from neighbouring military commands - including Sichuan, Gansu and Xinjiang - would head to Yushu yesterday. Hundreds of rescuers and medical staff with emergency relief material reached disaster areas by military transport planes yesterday morning, or within a day after the quake.
Indeed, the armed police force stationed in the county started to react just 10 minutes after the quake and sent live images to Beijing by satellite-tracking equipment installed on their vehicles. Government officials and earthquake scientists in Beijing also used live remote shots from helicopters taken by a special unit from the navy as another foundation for their decision-making, the military newspaper said.
The unit was also responsible for aerial detection after the 8-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan, which left about 88,000 people dead almost two years ago, it said.
The Central Military Commission sent 140,000 troops to Sichuan after the 2008 quake. Despite the massive mobilisation, the public criticised the PLA for its poor command structure, equipment and low efficiency. A lack of large cargo planes and helicopters and bad weather delayed the arrival of the first batch of 1,300 PLA soldiers in Wenchuan county, close to the epicentre of the earthquake, until 24 hours after the quake.
Premier Wen Jiabao, who went to the disaster zone a few hours after that quake, once made a tearful call to the army to send helicopters to save people, but there was no response because the army takes its orders only from the Central Military Commission, and Wen has no military rank.
The PLA eventually directed helicopters to the disaster area, but only after President Hu Jintao, the CMC chairman, issued the order on May 14, two days afterwards.
The PLA and Beijing leaders have learned lessons from the Sichuan earthquake, as both Hu and Wen ordered the army, local government officials and residents to do whatever was necessary to rescue survivors of the Yushu earthquake.
The State Council allocated at least 200 million yuan (HK$227 million) in relief aid to Yushu, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs announced 38,800 tents had been prepared for the survivors, which would be enough to settle all 100,000 people in Yushu county.
"We estimate about 10,000 tents will be delivered to the disaster areas today," Zou Ming, head of the ministry's disaster relief team, told Xinhua, adding that enough warm outfits were ready for survivors as the temperature dropped below zero Celsius at night. "The PLA air force dropped enough instant food items to feed 100,000 people ... this afternoon, while 120,000 items of winter clothing and 12,000 bed quilts and thousands of camp beds are on the way."
Guangdong and four other provinces had promised to provide 30 tonnes of food, Zou said.
Xinhua said the Ministry of Public Security had sent 1,775 firefighters and 48 rescue dogs from 10 provinces and municipalities to take part in the relief work on the first day, with many being equipped with life-detection gear, hydraulic machinery and other earthquake relief tools.