Earthquake Specialist: China Earthquake Administration Has an Unshirkable Responsibility

By Lin Qihui, Asia Times
May 30, 2008 12:00 am Last Updated: May 30, 2008 12:00 am

Advisor Chen I-wan of the Committee of Natural Hazard Prediction for China Geophysics Society refuted the China Earthquake Administration (CEA)'s statement that there was no prediction for the Wenchuan 8.0 earthquake. On May 14, in an interview on China Central Television (CCTV) Channel 9's English program “Wenchuan May 12 Earthquake,” Chen stated that the CEA has an unshirkable responsibility. When CCTV broadcast this program, the part on Chen's opinion was cut.

Chen pointed out that the Committee of Natural Hazard Prediction has submitted three mid-term predictions to the CEA warning about a possible earthquake in the Wenchuan area since 2006. Notably, on May 3, 2008, Chen personally sent a prediction of a possible strong earthquake in Wenchuan to CEA, warning that from May 2008 to April 2009, a scale 6 to 7 quake may strike from south of Lanzhou City to the border area of Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces, and recommended the CEA to strengthen monitoring.

If the CEA had paid attention to these materials, strengthened monitoring, and notified local prevention, the number of casualties would definitely be reduced. Chen added, however, that the CEA had always been self-righteous and regarded itself as the most authoritative, and snorted at these early warnings.

To his knowledge, some other people had also warned the CEA of a strong quake in Wenchuan, however these serious scientific predictions were repeatedly ignored, Chen indicated. No leader of the CEA or any director of the Institute of Earthquake Prediction has ever visited any expert in the Committee of Natural Hazard Prediction regarding these predictions, or tried to have an in-depth understanding of their predictions. Hence the CEA leaders' claim that they had never received any prediction is an outright lie.

In the past half-year, Chen has collected a large amount of government documents. Some internal documents of the CEA and from Wenchuan County obviously contradicted the claim that experts made no prediction of this massive quake.

On May 7, five days before the quake, Wenchuan County officials issued an emergency notice through its internal documents, indicating that at least three unusual landslides had occurred in the county on March 22, March 30, and April 8, killing seven people, and requested the relevant measures to strengthen the monitoring of any abnormal situations.

Moreover, there is also a document showing that before the quake, the authorities had received two warning reports. The first warning was sent out on March 15, predicting a 5.0 earthquake from March 17 to April 1, with the epicenter very close to the recent massive quake. The second warning was sent out on April 18, predicting a 7.2 quake from April 20 to May 18. Its predicted epicenter was a little distance from the real one, but the time and intensity were very close.

Chen I-wan is the grandson of Chen Youren, the secretary of Sun Yat-sen. Born in Oxford, U.K., in 1942, Chen graduated from the Mechanical Department of the Beijing Institute of Machinery. He became the advisor for the Committee of Natural Hazard Prediction for China Geophysics Society in 2002, and the advisor for the Committee of Disaster Historical Studies for China Disaster Prevention Association in 2004. For the past 20 years, he has been devoted to earthquake prevention research, and has published many important articles on China's scientific and technological innovation and development, energy and environment, air pollution and hadronic mechanics, etc.

In addition, the May issue of National Geographic Magazine reported that 10 months ago, a scientific research report had already predicted that the fault at Beichuan may have a strong quake. On July 17, 2007, the journal Tectonics pointed out, “The faults are sufficiently long to sustain a strong ground-shaking earthquake, making them potentially serious sources of regional seismic hazard.” They concluded that clashing tectonic forces were growing in Beichuan, ready to burst in an explosion of seismic energy.

Researcher Zhou Rongjun from the Sichuan Earthquake Administration and Professor Li Yong from the Chengdu University of Technology also participated in this research. News Sichuan reported on May 22 that Zhou Rongjun said at an interview that the report did not make any quake prediction.

Zhou pointed out that the conclusion of the report was just that these faults were sufficiently long to trigger a ground-shaking quake, becoming a potential quake source in these areas, that is, it is easy to have an earthquake, but there is no knowledge of when it will happen. The time can span dozens or even over one hundred years.