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Collapse of schools to be probed
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Medical workers wash themselves yesterday after disinfecting a tent camp for quake survivors who lost their houses in Leigu town near Beichuan, Sichuan province.

The national quality watchdog yesterday warned of "severe punishment" to anyone found responsible for the collapsed school buildings in the May 12 quake.

"It is regretful to see so many young students die ... and inspection teams have been sent to the disaster-hit areas to take samples of school debris," Zhi Shuping, deputy director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), told a news briefing organized by the State Council Information Office.

Zhi said the investigations had so far yielded no results, but "if they show quality problems do exist, we'll deal with those responsible with zero tolerance. We will give the public a satisfactory answer."

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the Ministry of Education ordered thorough investigations into why so many school buildings collapsed in the quake.

Many children - official figures are not available - were crushed to death in collapsed buildings. Some parents have blamed the tragedy on shoddy construction quality because many buildings nearby remain standing.

On Sunday, more than 100 parents - whose children were killed in the collapse of the Fuxin No 2 Primary School in Mianzhu city - marched downtown with placards bearing slogans and photographs of their children, questioning construction quality, Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

Jiang Guohua, Party secretary of Mianzhu, knelt before the bereaved parents, trying to persuade them not to go any further. "I promise to produce a solution within a month. If the collapse was caused by quality problems, we'll mete out due punishment to people accountable for that," Jiang was quoted as saying.

The report said in Mianzhu alone, eight schools would be examined.

The AQSIQ yesterday also promised swift and severe punishment for suppliers seeking to profit from the massive reconstruction with sub-standard goods.

Zhi said the AQSIQ would keep a close eye on reconstruction. "Our focus will be on construction materials, such as steel bars or cement," he said.

Wang Xuming, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, said higher quake-resistance standards are being considered for school buildings during reconstruction.

"A fundamental rule is that school buildings should have higher standards than normal buildings," he said.

Food, tents, makeshift houses, farming and agriculture machinery will also come under the scanner, Zhi said.

For example, quality inspectors will ensure that tents, sheets or makeshift houses are water- and fire-proof.

However, problems have already cropped up: The AQSIQ reported yesterday that a company in Shaanxi province was recently stripped of its manufacturing license for sending a consignment of shoddy quilts to a hospital in disaster-hit areas. Also, used blankets have been discovered in international donations.

Zhi said overseas donations would be subject to the same inspection standards as domestic supplies. But he promised 24-hour inspection of foreign aid for quick clearance.

AQSIQ figures show that green lanes have been opened at 14 entry points, including all the country's major ports, to receive international aid.

(China Daily May 30, 2008)

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