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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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May 15, 2008 12:54 AM

Earthquake worst in 30 years

Posted by Daniel Beekman

On Monday, a deadly earthquake - magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale - shook western China's Sichuan province apart.

As of 8am Beijing time Thursday morning (5pm Wednesday in Seattle), the earthquake's reported death toll had surpassed 15,000. Nearly 26,000 people remained buried under collapsed buildings and wreckage.

The earthquake triggered landslides that blocked roads to hard-hit areas. Rugged Sichuan is one of China's poorest and most populous regions. Heavy rain raked the province following the earthquake and tens of thousands of victims are currently homeless.

Some 2,000 Chinese soldiers are working to plug cracks in a two-year-old dam; flooding threatens downstream communities still reeling from the earthquake. In one town of 10,000 people, as few as 2,300 may have survived.

The earthquake has dominated headlines and news broadcasts in Beijing, where a minor earthquake caused no serious damage on Monday. According to Chinese spokespeople, no Olympic venues were affected.

China has scaled back its domestic torch relay, less than 100 days before Beijing's Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has donated US$1 million to the earthquake relief effort and committee president Jacque Rogge has written a letter of condolence to Chinese leaders.

China has faced one crisis after another in this, its Olympic year. Fierce snowstorms buffeted south China just before February's Spring Festival, when millions of migrant workers board trains and head for home. In March, protests/riots in Tibet stirred international concern. Last month, activists in Paris and London opposed China's Olympic torch relay, angering Chinese nationals. In early May, a train crashed between Beijing and Qingdao, a city on the Yellow Sea, killing more than 70 people. More than 40 children in China have died from HFMD (Hand Foot & and Mouth Disease), an intestinal virus, this month.

Migrant workers from Sichuan - who man construction crews everywhere in China - are struggling to reach their loved ones back home.

Journalists and bloggers are praising China's notoriously close-lipped government for the unprecedented freedom it has given local media covering the earthquake.

The Internet and 'new media' played a noteworthy role post-earthquake.

China-hand Peter Hessler of the New Yorker has suggested that many people here will draw connections between the country's bad luck and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

After speaking with Chinese friends, I'd have to agree. According to other reports, however, the disaster has released China's Olympics - at least temporarily - from international criticism.

Check back with Blogging Beijing tomorrow for earthquake reaction in Beijing.

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