Fake quake warning sends thousands outdoors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 2010, 12:00am

Tens of thousands of panicked residents in the northern province of Shanxi flocked outdoors in freezing temperatures yesterday upon receiving a warning on an imminent earthquake, which authorities denied.

The Shanxi Earthquake Administration issued a clarification urging people not to believe in rumours that a destructive tremor was going to hit such cities as Taiyuan, Jinzhong, Changzhi and Jincheng, according to a report published on the website of the People's Daily.

Residents in those cities reportedly fled outdoors and swarmed open areas such as parks and piazzas. The report said village officials in Qixian, Pingyao and Zuoquan counties had used loudhailers to wake up people in the middle of the night, urging them to flee outdoors.

Bai Qifeng , a middle-aged woman who lives in Taiyuan, the provincial capital, said her sister called her at 3am, telling her there might be a massive quake sometime before 6am. 'I went out in the chilly early morning, and I saw that every corner of Yingze Park and May First Square in the heart of the city was full of people, some clinging to their valuables, as well as numerous vehicles parked on the streets,' she said.

Bai also said she, her family members and others had put fruit, packets of biscuits and bottles of water within arm's reach each time they went to bed since the earthquake rumours began in mid-December.

A 24-year-old man from Yuxian county who identified himself as a police officer, surnamed Shan, said he had received more than 10 phone calls from relatives, friends and colleagues, starting with his aunt at 4.20am.

A spokeswoman at the Shanxi Earthquake Administration said no quake struck the province yesterday and scientists there had no idea about how the rumour began. The agency was investigating.

But according to local media reports, a communication failure between authorities and the public could partially be blamed for the quake rumour.

The Shanxi Youth Daily reported that in an effort to calm fears about ill-preparedness, the provincial government amended the emergency plan for an earthquake recently, saying that a week-long inspection had been carried out in several areas including military, health, civil affairs and publicity.

The report also mentioned a man surnamed Wang in Taiyuan, who showed the reporter a text message that said: 'Several major hospitals are holding earthquake evacuation drills, stockpiling medical resources and assigning numerous medical practitioners to be ready for a quick response in case of an earthquake.

'It is likely that a massive tremor may jolt Taiyuan soon. Please take care of yourself and stay away from any buildings'.