The man who saved his school from the earthquake in Sichuan

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Photographs by Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

Ye Zhiping, the school’s principal, knew the building was shoddy, so he pressed the county government for $58,000 to upgrade it. If he hadn’t, he said, “I would be the one responsible.”

There was an article yesterday in the New York Times about a principal of an elementary school in Sangzao (桑枣镇), An County (安县), Sichuan (四川) who prepared years ahead of time for the possibility of an earthquake, persistently asked for and finally received funding for the building, and ended up losing a total of zero students' lives in the quake:
The students lined up row by row on the outdoor basketball courts of Sangzao Middle School in the minutes after the earthquake. When the head count was complete, their fate was clear: all 2,323 were alive...

Nervous about the shoddiness of the main school building, Mr. Ye scraped together $58,000 to renovate it in the 1990s. He had workers widen concrete pillars and insert iron rods into them. He demanded stronger balcony railings. He demolished a bathroom whose pipes had been weakened by water.

His school in Peace County probably withstood the 8.0-magnitude earthquake because he pushed the county government to upgrade it. Just 20 miles north, the collapse of Beichuan Middle School buried 1,000 students and teachers.

It's important to recognize people that not only are able to deal with events as they happen but also predict and prepare for them in advance, which is very impressive. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote: "If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer."


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