Earthquake Predictions Distrusted in One Chinese Province

February 24, 2010 1:12 pm Last Updated: February 24, 2010 1:15 pm

Millions of residents in northern China’s Shanxi Province were woken from their slumber on Feb. 21., before fleeing their homes in panic and packing the streets and parks seeking refuge outside despite the bitter cold.

According to, an earthquake alarm sounded around 3:00 a.m. on Feb. 21 in Taiyuan, Jinzhong, Changzhi and Jicheng in northern China’s Shanxi Province. It was a spontaneous civilian act, an unofficial warning made with sirens over the public broadcasting system.

A Jinzhong resident wrote on the Internet, “I received more than 10 phone calls from my friends and family to get me out of the house. It felt like as if I was in the movie 2012!”

A Changzhi resident wrote, “My phones rang like crazy at 3 a.m. I went out and saw the streets were more crowded than I had ever seen.”

And a Taiyuan resident wrote, “It was miserable. I was woken up by a phone call at 4 a.m. and ran out of the house. The streets were packed with cars and people. Young people like me would be able to run fast enough if it was real, but I wondered how those with elders and children in their families would make it.”

Pressing concerns surfaced as residents began linking in their minds the earthquake with all the coal mining that has been going on in Shanxi Province. “How could people not worry?” one resident wrote, referring to a putatively hollowed-out underground in Shanxi. “I imagine the loss would be huge if an earthquake were indeed to happen!”

According to, in rural areas such as Qixian, Pingyao and Zuoquan, an alarm was broadcast in every village to urge people to leave their houses, and some villagers even moved their appliances to the street to minimize the loss.

Later that morning in public statement the Seismological Bureau of Shanxi Province said: “A rumor about a damaging earthquake was spread among Taiyuan, Jinzhong, Changzhi and Jincheng residents early this morning, please do not believe it or spread it. Maintain your normal life and ensure continued production at work.”

Officials from related authorities in the Seismological Bureau of Shanxi Province said that according to the Management Act on Earthquake Forecasting, “Only provincial authorities are entitled to issue an earthquake prediction, no other entities or individuals have the right to do it.”

However, the statement was questioned by the public. A Shanxi resident wrote, “The more the Seismological Bureau denies a rumor, the more frightened people become. The denial is even scarier than the earthquake itself. Last time the Taiyuan Evening denied an earthquake prediction, but an earthquake indeed happened.”

Another resident wrote, “I don’t know where the rumor came from. I had no sleep last night, and everybody panicked. It was the result of the Seismological Bureau’s poor credibility – people would rather believe in rumors than the authorities.”

Another resident wrote, “As far as I can remember, it always starts as a rumor and ends in reality. Didn’t the Seismological Bureau of Wenchuan also deny the rumor? But look how devastating it was.”

Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province was the epicenter of the devastating earthquake of May 12, 2008, at a magnitude 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Questions Raised

Before this latest incident Shanxi Youth News had published on Feb. 19 an article revealing that “earthquake drills” were being operated in in major hospitals in Taiyuan. The person in charge of the Office of the Seismological Bureau of Shanxi Province said “Between Jan. 6 and 13, we conducted specific investigations to test the implementation of the emergency preplan, and many entities conducted earthquake drills.” He said the drills in hospitals were mistaken by some residents to be related to an imminent quake.

However, questions continue to be raised on the Internet.

One resident wrote, “First, it’s suspicious to conduct earthquake drills around the Chinese New Year. Second, the rumor shook half Shanxi Province in only an hour. It is impossible for any one individual to have such power. Third, I heard the authorities held a meeting right before the rumor broke out. Therefore I suspect that it has to be a group of people spreading this together, a group of credible people.”

Read the original Chinese article.