Plenty of roadblocks while covering Yaan earthquake

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 9:06am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

The small city of Yaan is almost at capacity, with volunteers and reporters from around the world converging, some hoping to help quake survivors.

Meanwhile, the traffic is terrible. It takes double the normal time to get to the quake-hit counties from Yaan. The government claimed it was because the roads were blocked by debris and waste, and inexperienced volunteers rushing into the area.

But this SCMP reporter found the government’s disaster relief efforts poorly managed, and probably the major reason for the traffic jam.

It is a microcosm of China’s chaotic bureaucracy, where rules are constantly changing.

View Yaan Earthquake and aftershocks in a larger map

For example, soon after the 7-magnitude quake on Saturday struck the southwestern province of Sichuan – near where a devastating 7.9 temblor hit in 2008 – the Sichuan government launched an emergency media office in its provincial capital of Chengdu. The office required all media workers to register for press cards, and promised to allow reporters to use closed highways to get to quake-hit regions.

However, on Monday morning, police in Yaan told us the press card would not let us on the highway and that we would have to get another media pass from the local media office.

The media office in Chengdu was closed that day for unknown reasons, and all the reporters were required to get press cards at Yaan.

On Tuesday, Yaan police said a new rule had been adopted, and only cars with permission from the local police bureau could use the highways. The old rules were scrapped, and the old press card was now a piece of junk. The police asked media cars to wait on the roadside, creating a traffic jam at the highway’s entrance.

Besides bureaucracy, self-important officials can also create roadblocks.

On Tuesday afternoon, we were stopped on a mountain road during a drive from Taiping township to Yaan city. The section of the drive was somewhat dangerous with the possibility of mudslides, and the driver was eager to get through the area as quick as possible.

But our car was stopped because of a film project: a military official was “working hard” lecturing a team of young soldiers on quake relief efforts. Two or three cameras were pointed at the official.

The documentary just happened to be taking place at the most critical juncture of the drive. It stopped about 10 cars for about five minutes, under the risk of mudslides.

After two or three takes, the official nonchalantly returned to his car.