The Chinese government’s response to a massive earthquake in Sichuan Province May 12 has been swift, according to a number of news sources. The government said that tremors and aftershocks were felt in 16 provinces, from Tibet to Beijing. Up to 15,000 people have been killed with many tens of thousands more still missing and injured, and over 500,000 houses have been destroyed.

After the quake, Chinese President Hu Jintao “immediately ordered prompt actions to rescue the injured and to secure life in the disaster-stricken areas,” according to a news communique from China.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who heads the State Council, flew to Sichuan May 12 to direct the rescue and relief work. He oversaw the establishment of an ad hoc command center for disaster relief and the setup of eight disaster-relief working groups to aid victims.

Wen pledged to rescue as many people as possible and to rebuild the disaster area quickly, according to Chinese media reports.

The Chinese military, also known as the People’s Liberation Army, the police, local Communist Party committees and local governments have pitched in to assist and coordinate relief efforts.

Chinese media reports say that roads, communications and power supply to the epicenter areas in Sichuan were all cut off by the quake. Premier Wen asked the army to enter the worst affected areas by any means, even if they had to get in on foot. He stressed that every second of delay meant more lives lost.

As many as 20,000 members of the army and police have been deployed to disaster areas to aid in rescuing victims. Another 24,000 troops have been airlifted to the worst affected zones, and 10,000 more have been transported by railroad to help provide emergency relief. An additional 3,000 firefighters and special police were being rushed to surrounding communities shaken by the quake.

Meanwhile, China’s International Search and Rescue Team also joined the rescue and relief efforts. The Ministry of Civil Affairs delivered to Sichuan 5,000 tents from a national disaster relief center in Xi’an.

The Ministry of Public Security issued an emergency notice calling for the mobilization of the entire police force for an all-out effort to join the quake relief and work to save as many lives as possible.

The Ministry of Health assembled and sent 10 emergency rescue teams to Sichuan to provide medical care. Other departments involved in communications, transportation, and reconstruction have also been mobilized.

The Chinese government’s swift response to this disaster sharply and sadly contrasts with the recent disaster in Myanmar (Burma) where a sluggish response by the country’s military regime to a massive cyclone last week that may have cost the lives of as many as 128,000 people.

While poverty, population density and poorly constructed buildings in Sichuan likely contributed to the heavy toll in lives, the Chinese government’s response also contrasts with the poor efforts on the part of the Bush administration after the Hurricane Katrina disaster along the Gulf Coast in 2005 cost the lives of nearly 2,000 people.

International offers of aid have poured into the Chinese government. Wang Zhenyao, who heads the Ministry of Civil Affairs, welcomed offers of financial aid and supplies, but stated that additional rescue personnel could not be accommodated at this time.

So far, the Chinese government has allocated $123 million for the rescue efforts, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

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